Review: Fair Game Blu-ray

STUDIO: Summit | DIRECTOR: Doug Liman | CAST: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Michael Kelly, Jessica Hecht, Brooke Smith, Noah Emmerich, Sam Shepherd
RELEASE DATE: 3/29/2011 | PRICE: DVD $22.99, Blu-ray $30.49
BONUSES: commentary
SPECS: PG-13 | 108 min. | Thriller | 2.39:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Fair Game movie scene

Sean Penn and Naomi Watts get political in Fair Game.

Fair Game is based on the real-life experiences of CIA operative Valerie Plame-Wilson (Naomi Watts, Mother and Child), whose undercover status as an agent working on the detection of WMDs in pre-war Iraq was compromised by White House leaks, leaving her international contacts vulnerable and her life and career in shambles.

The film is based on two memoirs, the titular one written by Plame-Wilson and another penned by her husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn, Carlito’s Way), a retired ambassador whose editorial in The New York Times challenging the basis for the Iraq War was the spark that ignited what was to become known as “Plame-Gate.”

Placing the politics and issues on the side, Fair Game itself is a fine contemporary, political thriller — actually, more of a mystery than it is a thriller, as the film is most effective when it examines how the government’s secret maneuverings and power plays are conducted beneath the public’s radar. The “thrills” are generated when the cat is let out of the bag, but until then, it’s all a shadowy sort of mystery.

Watts and Penn are excellent as the seemingly hard-working and dedicated political couple whose lives and futures are undermined after doing what they thought was their job. Director Doug Liman (Jumper) uses his trademark fast-cutting, jittery camera approach liberally, never letting the style overwhelm the content, which involves lots of globe-hopping, fact-assembling and political/procedural talk. It’s a smart move on the filmmaker’s part, as the stakes seem just a little more serious and realistic this time around, as opposed to Matt Damon kicking ass in Liman’s The Bourne Identity or Sarah Polley (Splice) selling Extasy at a rave in his Go.

The Fair Game Blu-ray’s sole bonus feature is a fine one: a commentary track by Plame-Wilson and Wilson. The pair make for a soft-spoken but informative presence, commenting on the film’s style and its concessions to narrative story-telling versus the hard facts (or so we’re led to believe) of Valerie’s story. So, there are times when the Wilsons are talking about sets, editing, casting, locations and other filmic topics, and other moments when the commentary leans toward political thought and event clarification. Added together, it makes for a very engaging and different kind of commentary. And it sure beats listening to a bunch of actors slapping each others’ backs for an hour-and-a-half.

For her part, Plame is a lucid, well-spoken commentator who approaches the gig with professional aplomb and measured tones. (“I love the sultry voice,” her husband says, at one point). Early on, she describes watching her life flashing by on the screen as a “surreal” experience, which is not surprising. She saves some meatier comments for the latter parts of the film.  “I grew up in a Republican family when the Republican party had a whole different meaning that it does today,” Plame remarks halfway into the film. Respect her or not, the lady’s certainly got a point there.

 

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.