by Tony Dayoub
Any depressed Democrats still weepy over yesterday's election results by week's end can get a lift watching Doug Liman's liberal feel-good movie, Fair Game, which opens this Friday. While nowhere near a propaganda piece as a film I reviewed back in March, Green Zone (coincidentally directed by Liman's successor in the Bourne series, Paul Greengrass), it still has tinges of simplistic "Leftie good, Rightie bad" sentiments which do a disservice to what, based on the facts alone, should be a rather simple open-and-shut indictment of the Bush Administration and the cloud of malfeasance which hung over their entry into the Iraq War.
Fair Game focuses on the circumstances surrounding the 2005 outing of Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) as a CIA agent by Lewis "Scooter" Libby (David Andrews), assistant to then Vice President Dick Cheney, in retaliation for a New York Times op-ed written by her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn). Titled "What I Didn't Find in Africa," the piece cites his trip to Niger, in which Wilson failed to find any uranium yellowcake—a key component necessary for such a nuclear program—alleging that the Bush Administration had overstated the Iraqi threat by twisting intelligence to fit their argument that Saddam Hussein was implementing a WMD program. Libby's leak regarding Plame's covert activities ends her career, puts her family in danger, and understandably places a great deal of pressure on Plame and Wilson's marriage.
When Liman concentrates on the home life and relationship dynamic between Wilson and Plame, Fair Game rings quite true. In many ways the instability and uncertainty in their marriage, created by Plame's secretive job and its unpredictable demands, is something I could relate to. Like Wilson, I once worked in a field similar to my wife's, where clients sometimes makes unreasonable demands with short notice needing quick turnaround. These requests often involved making quick travel plans involving lengthy stays away from our family. Like Wilson, I left that career, while my wife's own career in the field continues. And like it does for Wilson, it places the responsibility of child care with me while offering me plenty of time to brood on the strain it sometimes puts on our relationship. Penn and Watts do a marvelous job of demonstrating the emotional toll Plame's job has on their relationship and the resentment which builds in Wilson, selfishly exploding in ways which subject Plame to serious consequences.
In particular, the outspoken Wilson is a mirror for the volatile Penn, whose liberal leanings have led him to place his ideals in front of his likeability more often than not (most recently in regards to his work in Haiti since the earthquake, including Penn's public dismissal of singer Wyclef Jean as little more than an opportunist when he announced he was seeking a presidential bid there). Wilson 's op-ed, the catalyst for Plame's outing, is portrayed as an ego-boosting bit of self-righteousness in which the former ambassador gave little thought as to how it might impact his wife's work. It is hard not to draw parallels between this kind of behavior and the relatively minor anti-paparazzi encounters the actor has been involved in which have, nonetheless, frequently hung like an albatross around not just Penn, but his famous ex-wives, Madonna and Robin Wright.
The bad news is that when Fair Game leaves behind the realm of family drama to concentrate on its central plot, the film becomes populated with cardboard characters. These supporting players, played by such dependable character actors as Ty Burrell (Modern Family), Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff), Bruce McGill (The Insider), and Brooke Smith (The Silence of the Lambs), become mouthpieces reduced to spouting liberal or conservative platitudes as needed, never transcending their two-dimensional delineation to become full, fleshed out people. Ask me what any of their names are, and I wouldn't be able to tell you.
The overall impression given is that the condescending Fair Game is simply a leftist screed produced by Hollywood's well-meaning liberals to educate an audience which deserves more respect. By now, most people, even on the right, have started to understand the ill effects our involvement in Iraq had on our country and its economy. They have also begun to fully comprehend the nature of the Bush administration's role in that misguided venture. Is it too much to expect a little more nuance then, for its underestimated but informed audience?
Fair Game opens nationwide Friday, November 5th.