Fair Game: A Compelling Family Drama With Just The Right Amount Of Government Conspiracy

5 11 2010

Based on the true story of outed CIA spy Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband Joe Wilson, Fair Game tells the story that Plame herself wrote in her book “Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government.” Here’s the breakdown:

After the events of September 11, 2001, tensions were high and concern over Iraq’s nuclear armaments became top priority. Enter Valerie Plame Wilson (Naomi Watts), a successful CIA operative who is thrust in the middle of the infamous hunt for “weapons of mass destruction” along with her ex-ambassador husband, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn). What follows is a litany of lies and backstabbing, a government struggling to save face and a family struggling for the truth.

The Monkey: Naomi Watts and Sean Penn were amazing. Their chemistry was magnetic and they acted as if they were destined to be an onscreen pair. Watts was completely believable as a loyal member of the CIA, who struggles with betrayal and family obligation. And Penn blew me away as a father caught between his family and his conscience. Due to the movie’s low profile, I doubt Fair Game will see much Oscar love, but I think that’s a shame – these two actors deserve some recognition for these roles.

At its heart, Fair Game isn’t about conspiracies or shady governments (although those definitely exist); it’s about family, and the lengths one will go to protect their family. It’s about loyalty and betrayal, sacrifice and justice. The script captured the battle the Wilson family had to endure – do you fight for what you know to be true, or do you hunker down and weather the storm, stay out of the spotlight? Both choices hardly seem like choices, and each come with their own unique set of hardships. Fair Game paints this picture, peeling back the layers of news coverage and hype and examines the intimate struggle this family had to undertake. It’s a beautiful testament to the power of family and the strength of marriage.

Doug Liman’s direction added the necessary tension and drama needed to keep the movie from becoming slow and plodding. His trade-mark “jerky camera” style worked well for many of the manic scenes of frustration and confusion. His depiction of Bagdad during the U.S. invasion was particularly jarring and well shot.

The Weasel: The beginning of the film, while necessary to set-up the rest of the drama, was a bit disjointed. In fact, it wasn’t until about half-way through the movie that Fair Game finally came into its own and found its rhythm. Was it a spy drama? A conspiracy movie? An intellectual action flick? Well, it ended up being more a family drama, but that was pretty unclear based on the first 40 minutes or so.

The movie also covers several years – this timeline is explained via date stamps, but it’s often too fast, and so little has changed that the progression of time is lost on the audience. All the action could have happened within the span of a few months for all we can tell.

A talented director, with a talented cast, Fair Game was a wonderfully told story of family and the universal struggle between right and wrong. Add a compelling government conspiracy plot thread and you have a first-rate thriller/drama on your hands.

4 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? How does Fair Game measure up to Valerie Plame Wilson’s book? Did you find the family drama or the government conspiracy story more compelling? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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