Fair Game: Naomi Watts as CIA Officer Valerie Plame

A potentially riveting story gets a dramatically weak, mildly engaging treatment in Doug Liman’s political melodrama, Fair Game, the story of real-life undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame, whose career is destroyed and her marriage strained to its limits by a White House press leak. 
Neither satisfying in offering a compelling portrait of Valerie Palme’s political career nor insightful in depicting Plame’s marriage to investigative journalist Joe Wilson. As a result, two of our most gifted actors, Naomi Watts and Sean Penn (in their second teaming together after “21 Grams”) are simply going through the motions of their parts, without registering strongly on either the intellectual or emotional level.
World-premiering to mixed response at the Cannes Film Fest (in competition) in May, “Fair Game” will be released by Summit Entertainment in early November, though I doubt if many people will see the picture, despite the high calibre of talent in front and behind the cameras.
What should have been a fascinating glimpse into the dark corridors of political power, the kinds of crucial decisions made behind closed doors, comes across as a diffuse depiction, lacking sharp focus and perhaps even depth.
Scribes Jez Butterworth (who had previously penned “The Birthday Girl” with Nicole Kidman) and John-Henry Butterworth, adapting the books “The Politics of Truth by Joseph Wilson and “Fair Game” by Valerie Plame Wilson, take a too detached approach to their subject, unable to decide where the real interest of the story is, thus preventing strong emotional investment on the part of viewers.
The structure of narrative is based two revelations, or discoveries, that serve as turning points. First, covert officer in the CIA’s counter-proliferation department, Valerie Plame discovers that, contrary to the belief of many government officials, Iraq has no active nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, Valerie’s husband Joe (Sean Penn) is sent to Africa to investigate the possible sales of enriched uranium to Iraq.   He, too, discovers that the “facts” have been just unreliable rumours, and that no such deals took place. As a result, Joe writes a New York Times piece that outlines his conclusions by substantiating them with factual evidence. 
It’s unclear to what extent Joe was fully aware of the consequences of his piece, that it would provoke major controversy and would lead unanticipated and uncontrollable chain of events.
When Valerie’s secret identity is leaked to high-profile Washington journalists, it becomes clear that the unidentified source was clearly a high-ranking Bush administration official. Other legit and crucial questions are raised about the whole case. Many officials (and civilians) suspect that it’s is not just an unhappy accident, but a coordinated campaign to retaliate against her husband. With her cover blown and her overseas contacts left vulnerable, Valerie goes through a severe professional and personal crisis. Pushed to the breaking point, she experiences the collapse of her career and private life.
There is not much support from the outside world. Contrary to her expectations –and needs–friends and family begin to become morally indignant, and then socially distant. Valerie starts to receive anonymous calls and threats, and Joe’s business simply “dries up,” to say the least.  Soon, not just the Wilsons, but also their family members and other associates are deliberately endangered.
In moments, but only in moments, Watts captures vividly the life of a young-middle-aged woman, who, after 18 years of government service and a field officer with an impeccable record, and multiple duties as a mother and wife struggles hard to keep her reputation intact, save her career and marriage, and most important of all maintain a sense of dignity and self-worth. 
Clearly, the filmmakers see “Fair Game” as a femme-driven tale, cantering on a nominally suspenseful and gripping account of Valerie’s fight to overcome a staggering betrayal and reclaim her life. Thus, while Joe’s story is equally intriguing, as written and directed (and played by Penn), his character is less well-developed and he’s often too much in the periphery.
Like the screenplay, which is sharply uneven, the direction is too rambling in its effort to cover the basic facts and events, leaving much to be desired by way of dramatic conflict.   “Fair Game” may be the least striking directorial project of the versatile Doug Liman, who made a strong impression in helming such diverse films as “The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “Go,” and “Swingers.”
Credits
 
Screenplay by Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth
Produced by Bill Pohlad, Janet Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Akiva Goldsman,  Doug Liman and Jez Butterworth
Running Time: 106 Minutes