It is strangely fitting that I saw Fair Game the same day that WikiLeaks released confidential cables to the New York Times and other news organizations. Coincidentally, Fair Game is based on another government scandal: Plamegate.
When career diplomat Joe Wilson spoke out against Bush Administration claims preceding the 2003 invasion of Iraq, officials outed the identity of Wilson’s wife, CIA Agent Valerie Plame, to the media. The leak effectively ended Plame’s career and was seen as a suspicious act condemning Wilson for speaking out. At the time, the story seemed straight out of the movies.
In Fair Game, Plame and Wilson are portrayed by Hollywood heavyweights Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. She is jet-setting across the world while masking her double life by playing coy at dinner parties. He is the renowned public figure trying to balance the family (they have two young children) in face of his wife’s busy and secretive career. She can be distant and aloof. He can be self-righteous. Their marriage is clearly strained.
Here lies the issue with Fair Game.
Director Doug Liman wants this film to be both an engaging biopic and a political thriller that rails against the corrupt Bush Administration. Plenty of found footage montages remind us of those tense days leading up to the Iraq War and who the major players are. Fast-paced, sharp camera work used whenever Valerie is in agent mode, best seen in the opening sequence set in Kuala Lumpur, stylistically screams political thriller. But Fair Game too easily settles into being a domestic drama about two people kind of associated with politics.
Even with the fine acting of Penn and Watts, it is hard to find sympathy for this unraveling marriage put under an inordinate amount of strain because of familial, career, and political pressures. In a story that encompasses so much information, the subtlety needed for Fair Game to be either a finely acted domestic drama or the ferocity to be a truly condemning political drama is lost.