Film Review: FAIR GAME

Directed by Doug Liman
Written by Jez and John Butterworth
Starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn
Released November 5, 2010

PLOT: And since the story must be familiar to most of you, I don’t think this is really a spoiler. After the events of September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration was looking for a reason to go to war with Iraq. They disregarded the information given to them by Joe Wilson, a former ambassador to Niger, that there was no uranium being enriched. They also disregarded information supplied to them by other sources that there was no evidence that Iraq was buying uranium at all. In fact, the government was bankrupt after the Gulf War and the blockades that followed. When the war began despite his trip to Niger, Wilson was outraged and sent an article to the NYT reporting on his trip and what he had found there.

Administration officials, playing get even at quite a cost to their own interests abroad, decided to take revenge by exposing Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a spy through Robert Novak’s column in a Chicago paper. Plame was not just a low level operative but in charge of many operations in the Middle East. Her career was over and many of the people who had trusted her were in jeopardy. She herself was in danger. Eventually some administration officials paid a small price for their treachery.

The problem with Fair Game for me was that it failed to take these events and give them any more dramatic heft than what’s in this summary. Of course, we are outraged, but for this movie to have really succeeded, we needed to understand a bit more about both Plame and Wilson. Is Wilson as obnoxious as he seems in this movie? Can the mother of young children be as cavalier about the life she has chosen as Plame seems to be? Watts’s performance is a very good one. And the facts are presented clearly. But I didn’t find the film much different than a documentary. The framing of the events seems workmanlike. There is little art or even excitement in the presentation. This film is certainly a respectable one, just not as good as it might have been in different hands.

Patti Abbott

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.