Fair Game - Blu-ray Review

'Tense dinner conversations are de rigueur, only this time imagine the source of disagreement is nuclear weapons'

The first half of Fair Game is that of a fairly typical low-key spy film (think Syriana but set predominantly on US soil). Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) is a CIA spook married to outspoken US diplomat Joe Wilson (Sean Penn). He knows about her secret life but not about any of the details of her operations. They live a comfortable middle-class existence near to Washington amongst a circle of vaguely unlikeable friends. Tense dinner conversations are de rigueur, only this time imagine the source of disagreement is nuclear weapons, a topic on which you just happen to be an expert, not that you're able to reveal that fact, or what you know about it, to anyone present.

This largely uneventful opening builds to a tense and occasionally terse second half, where Plame's name is leaked to the press by way of the US government and where suddenly she finds herself in the same boat as her husband: a supposed enemy of the US' decisions, accused of all manner of anti-American sentiments and actions.

Doug Liman's film is markedly successful in the way in which it builds in the other ideas surrounding the Iraq invasion to co-exist within Plame's narrative. Fair Game creates a feeling of distrust between the people (represented by Plame, Wilson and others) and central government and gives practical examples on how the war in Iraq might have been manipulated into being. This isn't just the story of a great injustice in the Plame-Wilson household, it's the story of a great injustice levied upon the people of the world by the US and their foreign policy decisions. Liman makes a compelling argument and does so in succinct and clever ways.

Characterisation also becomes key the longer the film progresses. This is really Plame's narrative. Wilson might be a key player with a story to tell but Liman deserves credit for not allowing Penn to grab the focus, keeping the camera squarely on Watts whenever possible. Wilson comes across as occasionally pompous and categorically hungry for the limelight. Plame never does. Our sympathies are absolutely entrenched in her court and it helps both Fair Game's political doctrine and strengthens the film's central narrative.

Towards the end some obvious stylistic devices creep in (it only starts to rain when things get 'really bad') and spending too long in Wilson's presence begins to get annoying. Minor problems. This is an admirable way to tell the Plame-Wilson story and tell it whilst managing to convey its chronological and ideological importance to the war on Iraq.

Look further...

'it’s about morality and the dignity of government officials; we learn what measures people are in fact willing to take in order to get ahead' - Split Reel, 7/10


  1. Yeah this is a good film and one of the top three of 2011 for me so far. Naomi Watts is always damn good. Not only is she a mega-babe which brings me to her films every time, but she is one of the pre-eminent actresses of our generation.
    I've always liked Penn even though he is a dick, but for a dick he can sure act!
    The subject matter is important and I thought fantstically dealt with. When I statrted watching it though I wondered if having Penn and Watts together again was a good idea after 21 Grams. Fortunately there was no residual feeling from that collaboration.
    I certainly felt my sympathies pulled towards Watts' character. At times I was actually cursing in the theatre at the injustices she endured!

  2. It does such a great job of making you feel (rightly) sympathetic towards Plame and Sean Penn's character is, I think, one of the ways in which it successfully does that. Although he's fighting the 'right fight' he's also a large part of the problems that occur and, considering it's mainly only about those two characters, that ensures you have to identify with Plame. Watts performance is needed to make sure this is the case and, as you say, she does a fine job in solidifying the film's position.