Does anybody in the CIA ever smile? Better yet, do anything pleasant whatsoever?
Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) live a relatively comfy-life together in Washington with their two kids. She works for the CIA and is currently in the middle of an important mission that would allow for her to receive info on possible terrorists’, whereas he’s a former United States diplomat who takes pride in making sure that he gets his point across in any way possible, regardless of how unpopular it may be amongst the post-9/11 society. But their lives change in a drastic way when Plame allows for her husband to get sent on a mission to Niger, where he would inspect certain yellowcake uranium to see if it was being made for the construction of nuclear weapons. Wilson does not think so and lets his voice be known, however, his strong-willed opinion is practically ignored when the President of the United States himself decides to go after Africa anyway. This drives Wilson into a bout of late-night madness where he writes an op-ed for the New York Times, uncovering what it is that he saw and he believed. The White House catches wind of this and to say the least, they are not happy. Therefore, they decide to take matters into their own hands and drop their almighty power and weight on Wilson, as well as Plame, even going so far as to uncover her as an “CIA Agent”. That’s something that should never be unveiled to the public, but when you’re the United States government, you can practically do whatever you damn well please.
Though most of those may think otherwise, I do keep up modern-day politics and all sorts of happenings. But even for me, I had no clue of this story about Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, and I can bet you donuts to dollars that not many others do either. Which is definitely an element you have to take into consideration while making a movie about it, whether it be a documentary or full-on narrative-flick: It must be as interesting and feel just as important as the film-makers behind the camera think so.
Here, director Doug Liman clearly feels a passion and an anger with this injustice done to Plame and Wilson, and because he feels it’s important, that feelings brought out onto us. However, it isn’t done so in a needy, obvious way that has Liman practically grabbing you by the head and saying, “Pay attention to how important this is!” Many movies of the same nature can and will do that, but thankfully, Liman doesn’t fall for that trick and instead, allows us to follow through the story in the easiest way possible that not only makes it understandable to any regular citizen, but also to anybody who has heard a bit about this story, but didn’t know all the nitty, gritty details of it.
And in making sure we follow along with the story and actually give a hoot about it, Liman focuses most of his attention on the core of this story: Plame and Wilson themselves.
See, it’s easy for a movie like this to get all sorts out-of-whack when there’s as much CIA-talk/espionage/back-stabbing/bullshit that goes on here, and while that does distract from the main reason why this movie’s worth seeing in the first place, it’s not terribly distracting. We still get an idea and feel for who these two people were before all of this havoc came into their lives, and just exactly why it did in the first place.
It would have been real easy for us to hold plenty of judgement against Joe Wilson for speaking his mind and landing his whole family in hot water, when he was assuredly guided to do otherwise, but the movie makes it seem like he needed to. Joe Wilson was the type of man who didn’t want to stand by all of these wrong-doings occurring around him and he sure as hell wasn’t going to stand by while it happened to him and those that he loved. It should be noted that Sean Penn is great as Joe Wilson, although there is one key problem with this casting and that’s because Joe Wilson himself does seem a lot like Sean Penn, the guy in real life. Especially towards the end, when Liman decides to hell with subtlety and starts really preaching to the choir, and gives us many scenes where it’s just Penn ranting, yelling and raving about how we all, as a society, should stand up for what we believe in and not get knocked down by the power of the metaphorical “man”.
There’s nothing wrong with these scenes or what it is that they are trying to get across, per se, it’s just hard to separate a character Sean Penn is playing, from the person Sean Penn is in real life. Heck, there’s also another scene in which Wilson himself comes pretty close to beating the shit out of a reporter/paparazzi! Art imitating life? Maybe, maybe not. But what I do know is that Sean Penn was a wonderful choice for the part of Joe Wilson, for better or worse.
That’s not to say Naomi Watts is chopped-liver as Valerie Plame either, it’s just that she gives the type of performance we expect to see from Naomi Watts: Strong-willed and emotional, yet, still keeps a lid of silence on all of it. Watts is always great and it’s no surprise that she and Penn have a very comfortable, relaxed chemistry together, considering that they starred together in two movies before this. Together, they build a couple that has an understanding between what’s expected of a married-couple with kids, as well as what is expected to ensure the safety of them and their said kids. They’re the quintessential couple, except that this time, they’re practically facing off against the whole United States government. And while Liman realizes that this is a challenge for them (hard to believe, I know), he still realizes that when everything in life seems to be working against you, the ones you can always fall back on are your loved ones.
Even if they just so happen to be Sean Penn.
Consensus: Fair Game clogs itself up a bit way too much with unneeded subplots, but the arch of the story, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, is done well and effectively, to where we stand behind them with every decision they make, regardless of how risky it may or may not be.
7.5 / 10 = Rental!!