A fitfully flashy and intriguing, but ultimately unsatisfying political melodrama works hard to draw one into real-life covert CIA officer Valerie Plame. It will need a shrewd ad campaign along with good returns in major markets to make this biographical drama compete with high-profile studio early holiday fare. Especially after another heated election season in the U.S.
Fair Game re-teams Naomi Watts and Sean Penn (after excelling together in the more unconventional, unchronological 21 Grams) as Plame and her investigative journalist husband Joe Wilson. From a professional and domestic standpoint, it seems more superficial than politically intriguing what with occurs outside of the public eye. Though, there is some fascination through its best assets, Watts and Penn who do their utmost emotionally and intellectually to offer insight into something crucial and controversial.
The focus of the story by scribes Jez and John-Henry Butterworth is a little diluted as they open up a thicket with some stinging line readings in their adaptation of a book by Wilson and Valerie's eponymous one. So, it's hard to have a strong rooting interest in what registers like another of Penn's films, The Interpreter and another of Watts's The International.
Unanticipated incidents and indignation grows from discoveries by counter-proliferation officer Plame and Joe, on business in Africa, about Iraq's activity in nuclear weapons and regarding the sale of enriched uranium. Valerie's professional status was revealed by White House officials (a Bush high-ranking administration official in particular) out to retaliate against Joe for his op-ed NY Times piece substantiating rumors regarding WMD's to condone invading Iraq.
A divided Fair Game sees an outed Valerie undergoing a personal and professional crisis with Joe apparently not cognizant of the ramifications of his potent article. His business soon empties as the couples and those closest to them become aloof as well as threatened.
Accomplish helmer Doug Liman (not with as sure a hand as in The Bourne Identity or Go) can be commended for tackling the story immersed in politics and double-crossing as it mainly centers on Valerie's efforts to maintain a sense of self-respect as she multitasks between wife and mother and serving the government nearly two decades impeccably. Joe's situation is really on a par with what is feminine empowered, but Penn can do as much with a committed man who is a little too behind-the-scenes. Liman does better by his production staff, especially in a vivid score that amplifies a turn of events from government to civilian life.
In something more than bad serendipity, Watts handles the harried role with expected intensity with overseas contacts in harm's way. It really isn't fair that after Valerie's cover is blown though she and her actorly associates are endangered by a case of sprawling fact-checking that renders the cinematic dramaturgy less than taut into the dark hallways of political power.