Fair Game seems to take the trappings of the spy movies we love and apply them to the real life situation of Valerie Plame. That doesn’t make it feel any less like a standard docudrama though. This is still an issue movie that doesn’t offer any broader context than the issue it’s reporting.
Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) goes on spy missions. She has contacts and assets and covers. She knows her character details, so you can’t trip her up. The mission just happens to be discovering Iraq’s WMD program. We know how this turns out and there are no kick fights with Plame in a fancy dress or aerial stunts where Plame’s parachute opens at the last possible minute.
The film portrays Plame and Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) well. They have smart banter, not witty like scripted dialogue, but they intuit each other like a good marriage would allow. The strain on their marriage has stakes because Joe really misses his wife. Then when it becomes an issue of national importance, it’s also a matter of private coping.
The film is pretty on the nose even before the leak exposes Plame. She explains her position on lying. The Wilsons have friends who believe the media hype about WMDs and Joe just can’t bite his tongue, but Valerie has to because she can’t share what she knows. I mean, I know this is important but do you have to dramatize it in the most overt possible way?
Fair Game supports the idea that WMDs were false, which I guess is appropriate since that’s what was actually revealed, but it still feels like an agenda. When the truth feels like an agenda, something’s wrong. There’s nothing exciting about the dramatization so it’s only pretty actors recreating the news we saw a few years ago.
There is a tense moment for an Iraqi father and his son, but one scene of basic suspense with supporting characters does not make Fair Game a spy movie. Plame loses a tail but you don’t even see how she used her spy tactics to elude him.
When the film gets really into the issue of a government leak and White House cover up, Fair Game seems really passionate. At least Penn seems really passionate about playing Joe Wilson and his crusade for what’s right. It still seems obvious and preachy. Even if the message is good, you don’t want to hear it that way. I mean, don’t let the Vice President get away with exposing CIA agents, but also don’t make movies that only say it’s wrong to expose CIA agents.
Nothing But the Truth was juicier and more exciting. That was from the perspective of a journalist protecting the source of a CIA leak. It was fictional but it explored the ethics and realities on fighting for those ethics in a much more gripping way. That had the passion of former journalist Rod Lurie behind it. Doug Liman has political passion, but I guess politics just isn’t as exciting as journalism. But then nothing is as exciting as journalism, if I do say so myself.