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With: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Sam Shepard, Ty Burrell, Bruce McGill, Michael Kelly, Brooke Smith, David Denman
Written by: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, based on the books by Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson
Directed by: Doug Liman
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language
Running Time: 108
Date: 05/20/2010

Fair Game (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 2001, Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) is working as a covert CIA operative. Her husband, Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn), is a former ambassador. After reports of a huge sale of yellow cake uranium, the CIA agrees to send Wilson to Niger to investigate. Wilson determines that no such sale took place. But months later, the White House reports the opposite and uses this information to justify going to war in Iraq. Wilson responds by writing an op-ed piece in the New York Times. Unfortunately, Plame's identity comes out in a subsequent news story, thereby destroying her career. The timing couldn't be worse: Plame was in the middle of trying to rescue a family from Iraq before it's too late. And now she and her family are receiving death threats...

This kind of political thriller can be tricky to make, and the tendency is to throw in either too much politics or too many thrills (see this year's Green Zone for an example). Director Doug Liman finds a nice balance with Fair Game, however, sticking fairly close to the real-life facts, even if he does employ a few tried-and-true Hollywood chestnuts for easy shortcuts. Overall, he takes a story about secret meetings, phone calls and article-writing, and makes it dynamic and suspenseful.

Best of all, Liman adds a welcome, moving human level to recent history. It's heartbreaking to see Naomi Watts, as Plame, helplessly watching TV pundits casting judgment on her, and the strain on the couple's marriage is palpable. Plame and Wilson were more or less branded as traitors for a time, but here we see them as two good people who tried to do their best in the wrong place at the wrong time. The characters are angry, yes, but the movie itself keeps a cool head.

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