By: Oberst von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Doug Liman’s Fair Game is a surprisingly restrained political thriller, which tells a very important story. For those who don’t read the newspapers:
I’ll bet you thought I was going to post a picture of our former president, or Sarah Palin... Anyway, Wonton Tacos!
Let me start again. For those who don’t know, let me tell you a story. The story isn’t long, but it is important in understanding why some of us are angry we’re in Iraq. The story is of a man named Joe Wilson who, on the request of the CIA filed a report on the validity of the claim that the nation of Niger sold enriched yellow cake uranium to Iraq. His conclusions were that the transaction could not have taken place.
The story is also of a Woman, Valerie Plame, Joe’s wife who for years was an operations officer for the CIA, doing work in covert operations. When the President of the United States went in front of the country to make the case for a war in Iraq, he cited the same CIA report, except this time stating that Iraq did make the purchase. When Wilson wrote an article criticizing the claim, top officials in the Bush Administration leaked Valerie’s name in the newspaper, effectively ending her career and compromising an untold number of covert operations in doing so. It turns out there is a law against this, and the rest is history.
For his part, filmmaker Doug Liman does a fantastic job at highlighting the emotional turmoil of the scandal. The type of camera techniques used is not unusual in this kind of movie, but it never feels overblown, or that it is trying to give you a seizure. The film never feels overly talky, or overlong for that matter, and he got two of the best performances of the year out of his two stars.
Naomi Watts, who plays Valerie Plame, is the definition of calm assertiveness and conveys an assurance that she knows what she is doing at all times, that is, until her life as she knew it comes to a halt. You can see her inner struggle between being a mother, a wife, and in the news. Sean Penn is fantastic as the determined Joe Wilson. He is a stubborn man who must hold his tongue at social gatherings as long as he can stand it, because what he knows is sure to embarrass, frustrate, or outright insult the other guests.
When word of the scandal becomes headlines, he takes on the role of political firebrand, but is torn to shreds when his wife doesn’t join him on the world forum. It is a classic collision of Idealism and realism that threatens to tear them apart. The dialog is sharp when it needs to be, tender at others, but never could be accused of being stylized or prosthelytizing. I am left with the conclusion that this is one of the strongest films of the year as a result of it. I can honestly say that of every film covering the political crises of the last decade, this is the one that leaves the strongest impression.
If there is anything this film can be accused of, it is familiarity. This type of “torn from the headlines” political thriller has been made hundreds of times (All the President’s Men or Syriana, or Clear and Present Danger, or any number of films with similar themes). That isn’t to say that this is a bad story, or that it isn’t interesting, it is simply a strong film in an overinflated genre.
The camera and editing techniques are straightforward, and unassuming, not really bad, but also not bringing anything new. If the film had a new and original approach, or had anything to say that hasn’t been repeated in other political thrillers, it might have been a one beer film. So give it a beer for lack of originality. That said, this is one of the best examples of the genre, and as overused as it is, I have to give credit where credit is due.
Convicted by a Jury of its Peers, pardoned by the President, now working for a multinational conglomerate and dumping liquid cancer into your water supply. Watch it… watch it very closely.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time a character watches a news report on television
Take a Drink: whenever the feeling of reality creeps down your spine and reminds you how badly we fucked ourselves as a Nation.