In the wake of 9-11 and its failure to capture Osama Bin Laden, the White House turned its attentions to Iraq. Falsifying a report written ex-diplomat Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), the US government claimed Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction and, well, you know how that played out.
But when Wilson, outraged that his information had been falsified, outlines the truth of his report in The New York Times, the Bush Administration retaliates by naming Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), as a CIA agent, effectively ending her career as an undercover operative (not to mention endangering the lives of her contacts around the world), and throwing the Plame-Wilson home into crisis.
Thus Fair Game is a political thriller cum domestic drama, as director Liman focuses very much on the private lives of Plame and Wilson, whose relationship will either solidify or implode under the political and media pressure brought to bear on their marriage.
The Valerie Plame story has already been covered in Nothing But The Truth, the 2008 film starring Kate Beckinsale and Vera Farmiga, which didn't receive an Australian theatrical release. The names in that film were changed but not so here. Liman, writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, and the producers pull no punches, very much putting their money (and political colours) where their mouths are by naming names: none are changed to 'protect' or prevent litigation.
Watts and Penn, so good together in 21 Grams (2003), once again prove to be a perfect fit. While Penn gets the showier role as the media savvy Wilson who'd rather fight fire with fire, Watts has the harder task. She plays Plame like the CIA agent she must have been: controlled, reserved, a thinker. It may give the impression that her performance is low key but like the best actors, Watts excels in seemingly doing little.
There's a sense that Fair Game is somewhat 'too little, too late', and not just as a second film on the subject or fourth Iraq-themed film this year. But while it may almost be two years since Bush and Cheney left office, the aftershocks of the invasion of Iraq continue to reverberate, providing legitimacy enough for its existence.