Monday, November 29, 2010

Fair Game

Neither agitprop nor Jason Bourne-esque spycraft lie at the heart of Doug Liman's Valerie Plame thriller Fair Game. Few attempts are made to elevate your heartrate on the way to a well-known conclusion, and no attempt is made to heavily propagandize the events that lead to that well-known conclusion. Instead, what we have is a strange, thoroughly implausible domestic drama, wherein a hot-headed husband's big mouth gets his wife fired, forcing him to hit the road to clear her name (not to mention provide for their family). Were it not for the events depicted centering so closely on the actual, real world outing of Plame, none of what transpires in the film would have the slightest verisimilitude.

That conflict between the pragmatic, good soldier Plame and the truth-seeking, jusice demanding Wilson is really the main-thread of the movie, which is doubtless an improvement over the Michael Moore speechifying or Oliver Stone psychodrama you might be expecting.

Naomi Watts's Plame and Sean Penn's Joe Wilson are each a workmanlike rendition of a type we've seen lately, the Mr and Mrs. Smith couple, a la Prizzi's Honor (and played out in five or six other films this year). The difference here is they're not superhuman or smug or overtly comical (or assassins). They're real people, extraordinary public servants or not. Things are most interesting here when we see Plame's matter-of-fact approach to concealing her identity, going on the job, interrogating people and collecting intelligence, and finally dealing with her exposure to the limelight.

Watts has a resume filled with serious, difficult roles, and a nack for playing them flawlessly. Penn's close-to-the-heart portrayal of Wilson as a boorish, passionate blow-hard, pursuing the truth at great peril to both of their livelihoods, is as you would imagine it. He's quite good, as usual, and plays the character without over-playing his own personal politics.

The film is not distractingly partisan, save for finding us the fattest Karl Rove in Hollywood. It depicts the Cheney underlings who cooked the books on WMD and then revealed Valerie Plame's identity to the world as thuggish, incompetent and treasonous, which of course, they were.