It's 2002 and post 9/11 paranoia sees Bush's administration champing at the bit to get something on Suddam Hussein. When rumours crop up that Niger are selling yellowcake/uranium (and with it the opportunity to create nuclear weapons) to Iraq, former ambassador Joe Wilson (Penn) is sent on a fact-finding mission to assess the situation. His report comes back negative: there is no evidence of Niger selling uranium to Iraq. However, Bush and his team choose to ignore this and set about debunking Wilson by exposing his wife, Valerie Plame (Watts), as a CIA covert operative. Plame specialises in spiriting away Iraqi scientists to the US lest they wind up in Iran and her exposure puts their lives in danger.
Liman and his writers (Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, adapting Plame and Wilson's books) aren't too caught up with facts. Facts shmacts - that didn't stop Oliver Stone when he took on the brilliant JFK. Fair Game nestles nicely between Stone's thriller and 1976's All The President's Men, a dialogue-heavy slow burner that relies on mood, tension and the ever-shifting sands of politics rather than action. The inclusion of Bush and Cheney by archive footage add to the sense of reality that Fair Game needs so badly to make it work. With all this, Liman still has time to explore a marriage that's slowly falling apart. The wide-eyed innocence of Penn's "we're talking about the president of the United States here" is a little much to get on board with in this cynical, post-Watergate age, however.
There is a scene that might stick in one's craw: during a dinner party discussion on the political situation, a guest is told to shut up because they don't have the necessary facts. If people only talked about subjects they are experts in, conversations on this planet would drop by 98%. Fair Game can be guilty too of taking too long to get going: the exciting scenes in the trailer are left for the latter third of the movie, but if one is patient it will all pay off.
Penn and Watts are believable in their roles - both as married parents and political advisors/CIA agents. Penn has the room to bluster and shout but Watts has the more difficult job of keeping a lid on her emotions and trying to stay professional (and a mother to her twins) while her world falls apart.
Story by Gavin Burke | 09:00 | Thursday 7th July 2011 | DVD review
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