Review: FAIR GAME (2010) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Review: FAIR GAME (2010)


After a colossal misfire of the sci-fi actioner JUMPER (2008), director Doug Liman makes a stunning comeback with FAIR GAME. It's good to see him return to the espionage thriller territory that he's famous for -- 2002's THE BOURNE IDENTITY and 2005's MR. AND MRS. SMITH -- but unlike those slickly-packaged and action-oriented movies, his latest espionage take is decidedly more grounded and realistic. That said, anyone who expecting Doug Liman injects the cool factor of a spy movie will be sorely disappointed here. All those obligatory car chases, gunfights and fisticuffs usually expected in that kind of movie are noticeably missing here but Doug Liman has brilliantly traded his usual energetic visual filmmaking style with a John le Carre-type that leans toward on the more intellectual approach. The result is a vividly intense look of dirty politics and riveting human drama of a political marriage on the verge of a breaking point. Simply to put, FAIR GAME is one of the best spy movies ever seen in recent memory -- the kind that evokes the particular genre's finest moments during the 70s (e.g. 1976's ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN).

Based on the two books, The Politics of Truth by Joseph Wilson and Fair Game by Valerie Plame Wilson, this fact-based story centers on the fall of 2001, where CIA agent Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) brings in her husband, Joe (Sean Penn), who is a former ambassador, to use his contacts gaining valuable information whether the "yellow cake" uranium is actually being smuggled out of Niger or not. Unfortunately he returns home from Niger with no evidence regarding about the "yellow cake" uranium. Despite that, President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union address, publicly declares that Saddam Hussein have been stockpiling the "yellow cake" uranium needed to create nuclear weapons (also known as WMD -- weapon of mass destruction). Joe is determined to straighten out the fact by publishing a New York Times article entitled "What I Didn't Find in Africa". Unfortunately his act of retaliation against President George W. Bush and the White House has resulted Valerie's identity being blown to the media. Not only she is about to lose her job, her friends and her reputation, she is also on the verge of losing her family altogether. With all fingers pointed out at both Valerie and Joe, they have no choice but to fight back for what's right while working hard to save their marriage.

Adapted by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, the screenplay is taut and intense right from the beginning and never let up until the gripping end. At a compact 106 minutes, the movie is certainly feels relentless. The first half, which concentrates on the procedure of gathering intelligence, moves at a brisk pace anchored by Liman's effective handheld camerawork that gives the much-needed urgency of a documentary-like look. But it is the second half, where the movie raises the momentum to a compelling height once Valerie and Joe find themselves becoming the blame target from the U.S. government. From the political intrigue to "this time it's personal" kind of vibe, the subsequent change-of-pace may been a turn-off for viewers expecting a movie concentrating more on the bigger agenda rather than watching a decidedly low-key drama involving Valerie and Joe trying everything to clear their name and save their marriage. But Doug Liman remains in high gear here, thanks to the emotional weight and airtight narrative that constantly keep the movie all the more remarkable experience.

Speaking of the emotional weight, the movie is also best seen for two acting heavyweights that actually bind the movie altogether. Working for the third time since 2003's 21 GRAMS and 2004's THE ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON, Naomi Watts and Sean Penn (both roles originally intended for Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) continue to excel in their respectively engaging and award-worthy performances collaborating together. Watts, in particular, gives one of her most captivating performances in her career as Valerie Plame. Likewise, Sean Penn's commanding performance playing a bluntly outspoken character with sheer intensity. No doubt both of them display great chemistry together, yet so natural that they should collaborate more in the future.

Apart from Liman's effective camerawork, the rest of the production values are equally first-rate -- notably for Christopher Tellefsen's sharp editing and John Powell's intense music score. One of the best movies of the year.

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