Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, David Andrews
Director: Doug Liman
Running Time: 108 mins
Fair Game is an American film about the true story of CIA officer Valerie Plame, who found herself at the centre of a political storm in 2003 when her identity was leaked to the press amidst conflict with the White House over the legitimacy of the Iraq War.
Lots of films have tackled the controversy and illegitimacy of the Iraq War, but Fair Game promises something a little different – going deeper into a specific, real example of how the US government’s determination to go to war impacted its own citizens.
The problem, however, is that this film takes an age to reach its most interesting point, proving painfully dry, repetitive and far from the revelatory masterpiece it wants to be. What’s more, Fair Game isn’t a suspenseful, sleek political thriller, but rather a bit of a drag for its first two acts, only genuinely gripping near the end.
Of course, that’s no slight at the true story of Valerie Plame. Taking on the US government at what was arguably the peak of its power, Plame’s story is a spectacular and sobering tale of freedom of thought and rebellion in the face of a seemingly unstoppable powerhouse.
But this film tells that story in such disappointingly dry fashion. Its first two acts are little more than a familiar retreading of the main reasons the US government pushed for war despite evidence disproving their excuses. And only after a good hour does it start hitting home with more suspense and thought-provoking themes.
As a result, Fair Game is a real drag for the majority of its runtime, but it does at least bring about some gripping drama in its final act. As the story builds intensity and frenzy surrounding the leaking of Plame’s identity as a CIA agent, it starts to deliver a genuinely sobering portrayal of government power, media frenzy and the consequences of speaking out – even for what’s right.
The final half hour of the film is a good watch, although still not as sleek or affecting as it perhaps aims to be. And a big reason for that is how dry the opening two-thirds are, telling the story with dull detail and even less dramatic depth.
With next to no characterisation in the early part of the film, it’s really difficult to develop an emotional connection with the characters – something that would have made a world of difference in making the injustice and terror of the final act really get under your skin.
Also, try as they might, leads Naomi Watts and Sean Penn don’t set the screen alight at any point. The film’s dry style doesn’t afford them much of an opportunity to do so, but both of their performances lack the fire and passion for what is clearly a very intense true story.
So, though it does come good in the end, I was really rather disappointed by Fair Game. Chronicling the illegitimacy of the Iraq War in fairly generic and underwhelming fashion, and failing to deliver sleek, suspenseful intensity on some of its deeper themes, it’s a really dry watch – only until a more gripping finale that comes a little too late. That’s why I’m giving it 6.9 overall.