In this issue pic from Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith) those two key roles of Plame and Wilson are played by Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, and together with the power of the real-life story, it's their always-credible performances which make Fair Game such a compelling watch. As their lives are ripped from underneath them we feel their raw pain and sheer frustration. Based on books by Wilson (The Politics of Truth) and Plame (Fair Game), the exact facts of the events depicted have naturally been challenged, but the conclusion is that despite the inevitable concessions demanded by Hollywood, the essential truth remains.
But while Liman doesn't fail the truth of Fair Game during its souped-up edge-of-your seat action sequences, he really does give it a knock with the frequently clunky 'TV movie of the week' dialogue between Plame and Wilson. You're also dragged out of the moment time and again by Wilson's endless streams of polemic. While appreciating Penn's performance as the flawed, occasionally self-important Wilson, at times the line between the two blurs. On more than one occasion it feels like we're getting a polemical call-to-arms direct from the actor rather than the character, and not just when he's stood behind the lectern. One particularly cringe-inducing scene finds Wilson in the back of a cab driven by a man from Sierra Leone. The enjoyable early subtleties of their exchange are swiftly chucked out the window for some embarrassingly signposted sentiments.
Thankfully, all that's outweighed by some really fine sequences sprinkled across the film, the best of which feature the smart, sharp use of archive footage and clips which root you further in the reality of events. An excellent, smarmy supporting turn from David Andrews as Lewis 'Scooter' Libby also does its bit to have you clawing at your seat in sheer anger. When we first saw Fair Game at Cannes last year, we noted how necessary it felt, despite its many flaws. On second viewing, those flaws are more apparent, but somehow viewing seems every bit as essential.
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