14 November 2010

Review: "Fair Game"

I will admit to knowing nothing about Valerie Plame before seeing Fair Game, based on Valerie Plame's own memoir, Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House. . I am Canadian and not interested in politics. The only reason I wanted to see Fair Game is Naomi Watts. While Naomi Watts garnered international attention for in David Lynch's 2001 film Mulholland Drive, it was her performance in 21 Grams (2003) that made me a true fan. Fair Game is directed by Doug Liman, best known for The Bourne Identity (2001) and Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005). I was really unimpressed by the camerawork in Fair Game. I am not a fan of films that feature shaky cams. There is a scene early in the film in a conference room and the camera keeps moving around like it is out of control. It makes both the film and the director look sloppy. This was a problem during the second and third Bourne films and I was surprised to realize that Doug Liman had only directed the first, which did not feature this style of camerawork. I am not convinced that Doug Liman was the right choice to direct Fair Game, which depends more on performance than style. Naomi Watts and Sean Penn do a great job but their performances are overshadowed by the messy camerawork.

Valerie Plame (Watts) was a covert officer working for the CIA in the Counter-Proliferation Division. She was tasked to lead an investigation into the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The CIA learns that Iraq has entered into an agreement with Niger to purchase what President Bush called significant quantities of uranium. Plame's husband Joseph Wilson was a former ambassador and has connections in Niger. She was asked by her superiors to have her husband assist the CIA and travel to Niger to verify the sale. Wilson returns and asserts that there is no proof whatsoever of the sale of uranium. The White House ignores his findings and uses the report of the alleged sale to support the war in Iraq. Angered by the government's actions, Joe writes an editorial in the New York Times and details his conclusions. His actions cause so much controversy that his wife's status as a covert officer is made public.

Fair Game is a political thriller and not an action film. I only wish Doug Liman and the film's producers had understood this. Fair Game is a good film with an interesting story and two great performances, but the camerawork is a constant distraction. Other views may not find the camera angles and movement bothersome but I found that it took away from the performances. When Naomi Watts is on screen in an emotional scene I do not want to have the camera zoom in and out awkwardly. It is a shame that Fair Game felt like little more than an espionage action film. Roger Ebert, in his review, mentions that the film's matter-of-fact approach is effective. I do appreciate that Fair Game presents the facts without taking a side. It has so many elements of a great political thriller but the way it is filmed makes Fair Game look like an action film. Usually in an action film the camera moves around so much to distract you from mediocre performances, but this time I wanted to be able to concentrate on Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. Their relationship is key to Fair Game and their performances are the reason to see it.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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