Everyone knows that two people cannot build a marriage out of lies, so when it comes to the marriage between the United States federal government and the American citizens, the public better hope the government upholds the values of truth and transparency.
The film “Fair Game” presents how truth and transparency took the backseat concerning the Iraq War during George W. Bush’s presidency. Based on two memoirs by Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband Ambassador Joe Wilson, the movie tells how Plame’s (Naomi Watts) identity as a Central Intelligence Agent was leaked to the press after her husband (Sean Penn) wrote an editorial presenting the lies in Bush’s State of the Union address.
Directed by Doug Liman, who also produced series like “The Bourne Identity” and “The O.C.,” the film does a superb job in recreating the intensity of real-life events and highlights the eeriness and secrecy surrounding a job in the CIA, especially Plame’s withholding of information on her whereabouts from loved ones. When traveling in the Middle East, it was unsettling to see Plame approach interview subjects with detailed profiles of their backgrounds, which she had gathered prior to questioning them.
Meanwhile, Liman’s direction and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth’s screenplay shed insight on the effects of a career based on lying. Plame’s job put a strain on her marriage and friendships after her true identity as an agent was leaked in the press. In an Academy Award-worthy scene between Plame and Wilson, Plame complains about changing her phone number multiple times after getting death threats from neighbors and anonymous callers while Wilson argues he cannot let this injustice pass without a fight. Through Watts’ reluctance and Penn’s stubbornness, viewers get a deep sense of how secrets can dissemble a vow of “in sickness and health.” The scene evokes strong pathos, pulling at the audience’s heartstrings.
For Watts, who is known for starring in roles such as “The Ring” and “King Kong,” “Fair Game” holds a tougher challenge, which Watts confronts with poise. As Watts’ character relays her love for the CIA and faces her rejection from the force, viewers sympathize with her plight. She maintains the perfect balance of strength and emotion. In one scene she breaks down crying in front of a mirror and in another scene she tries to hold her marriage with Wilson together.
While both the plot and the acting are strong and compelling, the true stars of the film are Liman’s cinematography and Christopher Tellefsen’s editing. Every cut shows movement, including pans, rack focuses and sequencing. The fast cuts set the tone of the movie, brewing uneasiness among viewers in the drama of an unethical move by a few powerful men controlling the White House.
Real clips from news outlets such as CNN and C-Span add to the mass fear and paranoia created when discussing nuclear energy obtained in Iraq. Bush and the real Valerie Plame Wilson make cameos in the film through news clips, grounding this drama in reality.
“Fair Game” succeeded in leaving a message of democracy: It’s up to the people to take a part in government and demand truth and answers.
“Fair Game” was written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and directed by Doug Liman.