The US political scene was shaken in 2003 by the "Plame Affair". Also known as "Plamegate", the scandal involved the public disclosure by White House officials of Valerie Plame Wilson's secret identity as a covert CIA agent in retaliation for her husband's article written in the New York Times which criticized the Bush administration for lying and falsifying evidence to justify going to war in Iraq. In 2007 Lewis Libby, the vice-president's Chief of Staff, was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison for false statements, perjury and obstruction of justice, but his sentence was commuted immediately by president Bush and he was set free. And that's how the cook crumbles.
Doug Liman is probably more famous for directing "The Bourne Identity" and it's likely to stay that way for a long time since none of his post-Bourne output has been mediocre at best. With "Fair Game" Liman attempts to navigate a more serious genre, the political thriller, and he does so with skill. In fact, this movie should signal studios that he can tackle sensitive subjects as well as stylish action.
There's solid material to be found in Valerie Plame's story but movies like this attract or lose audiences depending on how they can make the compromise between information and entertainment. I mean it has a lot going against it. It's about the war in Irak and it's based on a true story. Sure, it's important to be aware of the times we live in, but box office history has proved that these type of movies don't do well. They are appreciated by the critics, but lack the appeal required to draw in movie-goers. Which is probably why "Fair Game" was only granted a limited release and failed to earn the big bucks. Don't be fooled, though, this is a really good movie. Liman plays all the right notes here. He presents the information in a coherent manner and balances the political aspects of the story with Plame's personal life, thus helping the audience become involved and avoid burying the viewer in a political debate. There's anger here aimed at the Bush administration, but he avoids going all Michael Moore on the subject, instead presenting us with a more specific perspective of a classic case of standing alone against the system.
The emotional core of the movie is supplied by Naomi Watts as Plame. She crafts a superb performance. She is a strong woman. We see her work difficult undercover operations that sometimes endanger her very life. But the onslaught of lies and manipulation of a system that used her, then threw her away like a used napkin, eat away at her determination, pushing her towards a breaking point she never knew she had. She fights to hold on and protect her family. Her life and career are burned on a pyre of lies and there's nothing she can do about it. Sean Penn as her husband is, well, Sean Penn. He's so good an actor, that he can sleepwalk through a part like this. He even chews a little scenery in one scene, which is fun. The Watts-Penn chemistry has worked before in "21 Grams" and it still does here.
Overall, "Fair Game" is a good political thriller and a great drama. The two genres mix well and the output is a well-ballanced and engrossing movie. The "Bourne Identity" director expands his resume with a different movie, but is still far from crafting his greatest work.