Director Doug Liman Link: IMDB Even though we all know how the whole Watergate scandal played out, that has never stopped All the President's Men from being a riveting piece of filmmaking. To a much lesser extent, that statement could also apply to director Doug Liman's Fair Game, a political drama inspired by the real life experiences of undercover CIA operations agent Valerie Plame, whose covert identity was exposed by a White House press leak in 2003. Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith and The Bourne Identity), who is no stranger to espionage fare, uses the knowledge he has gained from his previous work to infuse Fair Game with a considerable amount of suspense, especially as Valerie (Naomi Watts) is given the task of finding out if Iraq is producing weapons of mass destruction. We have the answer to that question now, but Liman is able to heighten the tension by portraying the events that presumably happened behind closed doors as the CIA and government officials debated their findings. And Liman, working from a script by brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, wisely lets this information trickle out at a slow and steady pace, which really allows us to decipher all the cloudy facts and take in the gravity of the situation. This decision by Liman is also essential because there are so many details jammed into "Fair Game" that it will likely make your head spin. All of her neighbours and friends believe she is a venture capitalist, but Plame, a wife and mother of twins, is actually a covert officer in the CIA's counter-proliferation department who has spent years trotting the globe carrying out various assignments. However, her whole life changes when she discovers — contrary to the belief of many in the Bush administration — that Iraq has no active nuclear weapons program. During her inquiry, Plame's husband, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), a former ambassador to Niger, is sent to the African nation to investigate rumours that a sale of yellowcake uranium had been completed with Iraq. Wilson concludes that no such transaction could have taken place, but the U.S. government ignores those findings and instead declares war on Saddam Hussein's home country. Enraged that Bush and his team turned a blind eye to his report, Wilson writes an op-ed piece that is published in the New York Times, and soon after Plame's cover is leaked to the media. And it's this exact moment where "Fair Game" stops being a gripping throwback to the political thrillers of the 1970s and starts falling apart at the seams. The Butterworths try to humanize this larger-than-life story by showing how the whole ordeal affected Plame and everyone around her, but unfortunately the film doesn't focus on the most entertaining aspects. It's no wonder the movie mainly deals with how the press leak put a strain on Plame and Wilson's marriage (the screenplay is based on novels that were written by the two), but that rarely makes for compelling drama. Alternatively, what the second half of Fair Game should have concentrated on more is Plame's overseas contacts, who were also exposed when her identity was made public. It's not like the Butterworths completely ignore this facet of the story, but the film could have been a lot stronger if they would've done more than just scratch the surface. (Liraz Charhi is heartbreakingly excellent as Dr. Zahraa, an Iraqi expatriate who risks her life by returning to Baghdad to retrieve top-secret information from her brother, a scientist in Saddam's nuclear program.) But instead of meticulously exploring the consequences Plame's outing had on her closest allies, the Butterworths apparently felt it would be a better idea to put a majority of the attention on her struggling marriage. Under different circumstances this might have worked more effectively, but the Butterworths make Plame and Wilson's spats so one-dimensional and repetitive that it's really difficult to care about what the future will hold for their relationship. (Wilson wants to fight against the government with both barrels blazing, but Plame would rather keep everything private.) And even though Watts and Penn share great chemistry together (they also starred in 21 Grams and The Assassination of Richard Nixon) their individual performances are not all that impressive or powerful. Watts' portrayal of Plame is extremely vanilla, but at least she is not as distracting as Penn, who essentially plays a version of himself. Those who are familiar with Penn away from the movie set should know full well that he can be excessively outspoken, and while I never let someone's personal life get in the way of critiquing a performance or a film, it's almost impossible in this instance. What makes Penn such a great actor is his ability to transform into a character, but with Fair Game it seems like you are watching one of the many rants he has given during interviews. And whenever Wilson is thrown into the spotlight, Fair Game gets too preachy and basically becomes a tiring smear campaign against the Bush administration. Just to make things crystal clear, I would feel the same way if a movie did the same thing to Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. I'm just one of those people who think films and partisan politics should never mix. Besides, if I wanted to hear someone's slanted view on our past and present governments, I'd turn on the television and listen to any of the loud and brash blowhards on Fox News or MSNBC. Photobucket