Fair Game, which is based on the story of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame (played here by Naomi Watts), is not the first Iraq-related movie to address the subject of how the Bush administration may have manipulated a grieving country into an unwarranted invasion. Among several others, Green Zone, starring Matt Damon and released just this past spring, did that and did it adequately — taking as its subject the sham claims put forth for Saddam Hussein's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.
That thriller was directed by Paul Greengrass, the auteur responsible for the last two Bourne Trilogy films, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, as well as United 93, which chronicled the gallant struggle and demise of the passengers aboard the only hijacked plane prevented from reaching its destination on 9/11.
It may be appropriate, then, that Fair Game, which continues the debunking of the administration's case for war, was directed by Doug Liman, who made the first of the Bourne sagas, The Bourne Identity — a film possessing the same flawless urgency as Greengrass' two follow-ups. And something more.
Just as The Bourne Identity found time to explore the chemistry between its hero and a significant other, Fair Game is more than a suspense movie, more even than the quasi-documentary and propaganda tract which any self-respecting drama about the Iraq fiasco is obliged to be.
Most of those who will end up seeing Fair Game (and, regrettably, there may not be many; every Iraq-based film so far has been a box-office bust) already have a conception, albeit a stereotyped one, of Joseph Wilson (played here by Sean Penn), the former ambassador whose New York Times op-ed debunked some administration claims about Iraq's nuclear program, and Plame, Wilson's wife and a CIA handler whose cover was willfully and vengefully blown.
"It pays the rent," Plame shrugs to Wilson early on, and that throwaway line about her vocation illuminates both her businesslike dedication to the job and the preeminence she owns in the Wilson household. It is one of several character touches that broaden our sense of Wilson's motivation for going public and forms the basis for the serious domestic tension that develops between the two — even as they both become foils in a gripping public drama. Watts and Penn are both superb as imperfect flesh-and-blood survivors.
And yes, the advance publicity is correct. The film does not shy from naming names. Bush adviser Karl Rove (Adam LeFevre) and Cheney point man Scooter Libby (David Andrews) both get their just desserts as villains of the piece, with Andrews' Libby, especially, almost Hitchcockian in his exposition of what sinister is, Beltway-style.
Opening Friday, November 19th