I’m not usually a fan of the political drama. For one, I can’t help but wonder what kind of agenda is behind the film; where’s the money come from, do people in general actually know about this topic enough not to go and see this film as a documentary and why has this film been made are questions that usually end up bothering me. The fact is that often biographical dramas depict events from a certain, often financially motivated, perspective and unlike documentaries, there’s no code of ethics when it comes to the origins of the source material and the writing. Of course it is important to cover pressing political topics within film, as it is in important to do so with other forms of media, but often it brings with it difficulties. Secondly, political dramas often follow the same, often rigid, formula of storytelling and can verge on boring to the average viewer. Fair Game manages mostly to avoid the two black holes political dramas are usually sucked into.
Fair Game tells the true story of former CIA Operations Officer Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and her husband Joe Wilson (the forever-angsty Sean Penn) based on books written by the actual people. Plame worked under the radar, as a covert officer gathering intel on the alledged weapons of mass destruction held by Iraq before the war. She found no evidence to suggest that the accussations were correct. Her career was ended after her identity was leaked to a newspaper after Wilson’s article “What I Didn’t Find In Africa”, presenting evidence of false claims made by the US government of Iraq’s intentions to by yellowcake uranium from Niger. Fair Game depicts the events leading to the Libby Trial, concerning five felony accounts including the Plame Wilson identity leak.
The film keeps a very novelistic structure, varying between different tones of thriller, drama, biopic and even action. The story is very complex and touches on important and controversial issues and questions on the intent and level of information of the US government during the Iraq war. It’s all handled quite well, as it is based on personal accounts and writing, it keeps a certain level of first-person perspective without being completely subjective.
Naomi Watts is the true star here capturing Plame’s mannerisms, tone and determinism perfectly. Penn on the other hand is miserable to watch in his the-whole-weight-of-the-world-is-on-my-shoulders political commentary shadowing his performance; whether intentional or unintentional, the character of Joe Wilson comes off as someone who is very deeply burdened and weighed. Sean Penn is often great in his intensity (Mystic River being the perfect example), but here it puts a far too dark and heavy undertone to his scenes. Understandably he is dealing with difficult decisions, but for me it brought the film down a bit. Whether it’s a question of the directing or writing or Penn himself is a different matter. Still the film remains fortunately not as preachy as Penn’s presence in the film would suggest.
In the heart of the film, 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. We also see the personal effects on Plame, her husband, family and friends of decisions bigger than them; the focus shifts are often interesting and told from a personal perspective, therefore feeling genuine. All in all Fair Game is mildly entertaining, mostly educational and at points thrilling film, but nowhere near a classic. In theatres in the UK now.
You will like Fair Game if …
7 / 10