FAIR GAME (12): On General Release Friday 11th March
With recent headline-grabbing events from the WikiLeaks revelations to the Iraq war inquiry still very much fresh in the mind, it’s difficult not to begrudge Fair Game’s pervading sense of having missed the boat, further exacerbated by its all too earnest attempts to stir the audience into an indignant fury over the US government’s deliberate misleading of the public in the build up to the Iraq War.
How appropriate then that one of the conflict’s biggest celebrity opponents, Sean Penn, should portray one half of the film’s central protagonists, the real-life Joe Wilson, a former Ambassador, whose sensational expose in the national press led to a government co-ordinated smear campaign, costing his wife, Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), her undercover role in the CIA in the process.
Before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Valerie Plame was leading a curious double life as a spy and venture capitalist, with only her husband and parents wholly aware of her true identity. Frequently sent abroad, we’re first introduced to Plame in Kuala Lumpur as she cajoles a Middle-Eastern suspect into participating in a surveillance operation using the classic CIA technique of combining blackmail with thinly veiled threats. Job done, she then flies home to have dinner with her husband and their smug, liberal philosophising friends, giving Penn’s character an opportunity to assert to the audience just how much he cares about the world. In short, they’re one of those American couples who are fervently patriotic and share a strong belief in civic duty, making them perfect fodder for a Hollywood exercise of this kind.
However, this is no All The President’s Men, despite their thematic similarities. Whereas the former film excelled in portraying the shadier sides of Washington, delivering rapid-fire dialogue and racking up tension, Fair Game is, frankly, rather boring in comparison. Once Wilson has had his article published and the dark forces initiate their retribution, there’s simply not enough drama left to engage with. Inevitably, Plame receives a volley of abusive phone calls, there are domestic squabbles over what is the right thing to do, people are put in impossible situations and a great deal of agonising is done, all physically embodied in another wild performance by Penn’s bouffant.
Despite its commendable choice of subject matter, Fair Game lacks bite and soon lapses into the lamentable territory of the television movie, director Doug Liman preferring to simply tell the audience the story rather than challenge or engage them with it.