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Fair Game

(No longer in theaters)
  • Rating: PG-13 — for some language
  • Director: Doug Liman   Cast: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly, Bruce McGill
  • Running Time: 108 minutes
  • Reader Rating: Write a Review




Bill Pohlad, Janet Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Akiva Goldsman, Doug Liman, Jez Butterworth


Summit Entertainment

Release Date

Nov 5, 2010

Release Notes


Official Website


Fair Game, based on separate memoirs by Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson, is a martyr story in which a skilled professional couple gets the shiv after one of them turns whistle-blower. Its agenda is to show (a) that Wilson was correct in his assessment that yellowcake uranium was not transported from Niger to Iraq, and that his decision to say so publicly (in a New York Times op-ed) after the war was under way was an act of remarkable courage; and (b) Plame was an effective covert CIA agent whose work was compromised and contacts imperiled by political operatives covering their lies. Exposed, abandoned, branded as traitors, the Wilsons finally have no choice but to tell their story, the latest chapter of which is this potent Hollywood melodrama starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.

Liman works in high-efficiency mode, taking his tone from Plame’s no-nonsense competence—which has the effect of making her husband, the brooder, the man of feeling, the one who stays at home with the kids while she goes on secret missions, look weaker, more conventionally “feminine.” That’s what gives Fair Game its subtext and drama (as opposed to melodrama): Will Plame forgive him for losing his shit and publishing that op-ed (without, according to the movie, discussing it with her in advance), thereby ending her career and threatening their family life? It’s touch and go, and Watts does something subtle in her final scenes: She tells her repentant husband that he did the right thing, he saved her, yet her body doesn’t entirely go along. In any case, he didn’t slay the dragon. Scooter Libby (uncannily impersonated by David Andrews) took the fall, but only for perjury (sentence commuted!), and everyone else in the V.P.’s office, not to mention Karl Rove, got off. The war went on.

Every detail in Fair Game—the title comes from Rove, who allegedly told Chris Matthews, “Wilson’s wife is fair game”—suggests the administration’s scandalous indifference to real threats, as, for example, when Plame was pulled off the Pakistan beat (where there was plenty of evidence of Al Qaeda collusion) and forced to work on Iraq (where there was nada). Libby’s interrogation of Wilson is a concise dramatization of what Ron Suskind called “the One Percent Doctrine”: If there’s a one percent chance there are nukes …

In a largely humorless film, there are two amusing touches. The fictionalized CIA men, craven Jack (Michael Kelly) and Cheney tool Bill (Noah Emmerich), have their surnames blacked out in the cast list—an allusion to Plame’s heavily redacted memoir. And proponents of the yellowcake threat say, like their president, “nucular,” which for me is a Pavlovian zap: “nucular”—arghh—“nucular”—arghh. It’s worse than the Knights Who Say “Ni!”

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