As far as political dramas go, Fair Game, starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, is a pretty good one, even if it is a little dry. The film looks back at the Washington scandal that erupted in 2003, shortly after the start of the Iraq war.
CIA agent Valerie Plame (played by Watts) is trying to halt nuclear proliferation. Her husband Joe Wilson (played by Penn) is a former US ambassador and expert on Africa, who’s sent to Niger by the CIA to check out allegations that Saddam Hussein had purchased large quantities of weapons-grade uranium there. Wilson finds no such evidence. Yet, when President Bush, in his State of the Union address, cites the non-existent uranium story while building a case for the invasion of Iraq, Wilson decides to correct the facts. He writes a piece in The New York Times, straightening out Bush’s lies. And then as retaliation, the administration leaks the fact that Plame is a CIA agent, thus putting her and many of her contacts, as well as her operations, in danger.
Clearly and crisply told, this story – based on separate novels written by Plame and her husband Wilson – shows the damage this incident did to the couple’s careers and the pressure it put on their marriage. The film works as a disturbing account of power-abuse, and in fact it raises important questions about truth and the price that must sometimes be paid for telling it.
Sean Penn and Naomi Watts are remarkable actors, and their compelling performances ground the film in reality, and make it eminently watchable even when the screenplay occasionally flounders. What’s missing in Fair Game is a sense of urgency; the movie works as a political drama, but never quite gathers the pace of a thriller. It’s engaging, but never riveting.
I’m going with three out of five for Fair Game. Director Doug Liman tells an important story that deserves to be heard.

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