Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fair Game: DVD review

Fair Game is based on the real-life case of Valerie Plame, undercover operative with the CIA. Plame was outed by White House officials in 2003 after her husband, a former ambassador called Joseph Wilson, wrote an article exposing the false claims of the Bush government regarding the sale by Niger to Iraq of yellowcake uranium, allegedly to build WMDs. This effectively ended her career, though she fought back successfully, resulting in a Congressional committee sentencing the Vice President's chief of staff Scooter Libby to 30 months imprisonment. Fair Game, from Plame’s book of the same name, starts off strong. We follow Plame, played by Naomi Watts, on her covert operations, watch the build-up to the Iraq war, see Wilson’s malcontent manifest itself at dinner parties. Then Wilson (Sean Penn) writes his piece and the movie goes from political thriller to soggy domestic drama.

Director Doug Liman obviously wants us to feel as deeply for his characters as we do for their larger battles. The problem is that neither actor does much to warrant our sympathy for their marriage cracking at the seams. Penn is extremely dour until the last half hour, when he mutates into a speechifying crusader. Watts has an even more implausible transformation; she loses her steely resolve after the revelations and becomes another Hollywood movie damsel, making irrational decisions, in need of rescuing. The melodramatic script does neither actor any favours. As an expose of the Bush government, this movie feels dated (spoiler alert: there were no WMDs!). And as usual, the Iraqis are just a plot point, a way to illustrate how much the heroine cares, but not vital enough to keep around very long. No special features, which at these prices would seem to convey that the DVD-buying public here is fair game too.

A version of this piece appeared in Time Out Delhi.

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