As far as her friends are concerned Valerie Plame (Watts) is a venture capitalist. “It’s really quite boring work,” she says at a dinner party one night. In reality, she’s a NOC – a non-official covert operative for the CIA. It’s 2003 and she is investigating whether Iraq is developing a nuclear weapons programme.
Meanwhile, her husband Joe Wilson (Penn) goes to Niger as former ambassador of the African nation to find out if a sale of enriched uranium has been made to Iraq. Despite his findings that no such deal took place, the powers that be conclude that the risk to national security is too great and the US declares war on Iraq. Outraged, Joe writes a column for the New York Times with his own opinions – but the result is that his wife’s identity is leaked to the press, effectively ending her career.
If this feels a bit like Green Zone that’s because for a short while it is, covering much the same ground Matt Damon covered, only from a slightly less hands-on angle. As the story of Valerie Plame is based on a true story, this should come as no surprise – revisiting historical events for entertainment has been a Hollywood staple since the start of cinema. In the opening third Doug Liman, who directed The Bourne Identity, uses his thriller know-how to build tension as Plame does her secret agent stuff abroad.
However, it’s in the second act that Fair Game really comes to life during which Sean Penn as the outspoken Joe comes centre stage and is given the chance to be justifiably angry and impassioned about at first the injustice of the decisions made by the government he has served and second, the treatment by them of his wife. This isn’t to say that Naomi Watts is anything less than excellent – it’s just that Penn makes these roles sparkle and it’s his performance that is the highlight of what slowly morphs from thriller to family drama, as the marriage and then their life begins to fall apart.Although the trademark Liman ‘shakycam’ becomes somewhat wearing after a while – in action sequences I get it but in a living room? – this is a perfectly well-made film and a decent dramatisation of some shocking (or maybe not so shocking) events in recent American political history. Bizarrely though, there’s a feeling that this would almost have been more gripping a tale had it been a documentary. Perhaps some of the more emotional elements would have been lost – despite these being the least convincing parts of the film – but the wow factor could well have been higher. Solid rather than spectacular, Fair Game is certainly fair but doesn't have quite enough game.
EXTRAS ★½ Just an audio commentary with the real Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson