Not that it matters a whole lot, but I’m going to point out the fact that I recently watched Syriana again — it’s a powerful politically-charged thriller, George Clooney drives the film with an amazing performance and the hyperlinks of the intellectual plot demand viewing with full attention. I believe for those same reasons a second (and possibly a third) viewing is in order to grasp Fair Game from start to finish.
The film can be broken into two distinct parts, which, coincidentally, are of equal running length. It opens with a first half that introduces the main characters Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and her husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), and depicts their back stories. We see her travel to several places and meet several people from in and around the Middle East. We learn that she is in the middle of the investigation for weapons of mass destruction (WMD, for short) in Iraq. This first half of the movie is labeled as the “Education” half.
The second half of the film allows Sean Penn and Naomi Watts to let loose in their roles with the now fully developed characters. It’s during this act that Plame’s status as a CIA agent is allegedly leaked by the government as payback for her husband’s scathing op-ed article that called into question the motives of the Bush administration’s “liberation” of Iraq. Like Clooney did in Syriana, Watts and Penn drive the film (especially this part) with phenomenal performances. This second half is where Fair Game earns its stripes as a political thriller and is given the label as the “Entertainment” portion.
Be warned, however, the “Entertainment” half of the movie is mostly devoid of action sequences and is instead primarily dialogue-driven. It’s a considerable gamble, considering how explosion-happy viewers have become these days, but it works. The screenplay, adapted by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth from the memoirs of two real people — “The Politics of Truth” by Joseph Wilson and “Fair Game” by Valerie Plame — is very smart and compelling. Coupled with the top notch performances of Penn and Watts, this segment of the movie is nearly impossible to turn away from.
One could, if forced to, think of Fair Game as a muted version of another WMD investigative thriller, Green Zone. Both have strong stories, authentic looking locations, and are, interestingly enough, directed by the directors of the Bourne series (Paul Greengrass director of Green Zone directed The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum whilst Doug Liman helmed The Bourne Identity). Depending on one’s mood (more action versus more intellect), one can’t go wrong viewing either movie.
A guilty pleasure of mine is seeing the what and whereabouts of the real people a based on true story movie is derived from. Fair Game provides some final facts at the end and offers a bonus of real video footage of Valerie and Joe (similar in nature to The Fighter). It’s a fitting ending for a most riveting movie.