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‘Fair Game’ is interesting, well-executed movie

'Fair Game'

Pitchforks: 3 out of 5

Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn

Rating: PG-13

Opens: Nov. 5

“Fair Game” might not be among the best contemporary film’s inspired by factual political scandals, but it is certainly an interesting, well-executed one. The film does a modest job at depicting its subject matter in addition to capturing the erratic atmosphere of early 21st-century America, when President George W. Bush was beginning the war in Iraq.

Naomi Watts demonstrates some of the strongest work of her career as Valerie Plame, a real-life undercover agent for the CIA. Her husband is Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador played by Sean Penn.

Like all married couples in movies about people who work for the government, they have their share of problems. Plame isn’t thrilled with Wilson’s outspoken righteousness when it comes to discussing politics at dinner parties. Wilson often wakes up in the middle of the night only to find Plame still hasn’t returned home from work. Nevertheless, they still manage to maintain a loving, mutual partnership.

In 2002, the CIA sends Wilson to Niger to investigate a potential deal Saddam Hussein had in order to purchase uranium. Although he finds nothing there, the invasion of Iraq presses on. Wilson challenges the Bush Administration in a New York Times article entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Shortly after the article’s publication, Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA agent is exposed in a newspaper. Plame is fired from her job after years of substantial service.

I was a little worried that “Fair Game” might leap into pure fantasy territory and become another action thriller, given that the director, Doug Liman, previously made “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.”

But Liman respects the story of Wilson and Plame, making what is probably his most mature film to date. The screenplay by Jez and John Butterworth, while a little sluggish at times, has its share of sharp, well-written dialogue. What holds “Fair Game” together in the end is its two leads, who both deliver uniformly stellar performances

Needless to say, Watts and Penn are phenomenal actors. Here, they have an absorbing dynamic as two strong, determined people. The difference between them is that Wilson is content with going on television and challenging the White House while Plame desires no more publicity. The best scenes in the movie are the quieter moments between Wilson and Plame, demonstrating one of the most encouraging examples of a marriage I’ve seen on screen in a while. In that sense, “Fair Game” actually works better as a story of a prevailing marriage rather than a political thriller.

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