The two directors of the Bourne series each debuted historical accounts of the Bush Era this year, and who would have expected the superior film would come from the one who made Jumper?
With the WMD yarn Green Zone, Paul Greengrass wildly overcompensated for a paint-by-numbers script loaded with speechifying, one-note villains and toxic nobility. Doug Liman (Swingers, Go) is only slightly less keyed up in his account of Plamegate, but directing this decidedly unthrilling story as if it were The Bourne Identity proves unexpectedly appropriate. Instead of gunplay and platitudes, it’s the thrill of verbal sparring—of people of power duking it out with words, making their moves on cable news and in print. And for a good while, it fools us into thinking there’s more going on here than there is.
As you well know, Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) is a seasoned spy who has the misfortune to be married to Sean Penn—er, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), a hotheaded ex-diplomat who publishes a series of New York Times pieces debunking claims that Saddam Hussein had purchased uranium yellowcake from Niger. Plame is then mysteriously outed, and her career and some lives are immediately ruined, sending her into a depressive funk and Wilson on a media tour pointing the finger at Karl Rove and fellow mega-dick Scooter Libby.
It’s frankly bizarre that this not-that-dramatic story has now inspired two movies (the other, Nothing But the Truth, tells it from the side of journo Judith Miller, who barely figures in here)—the third act is mostly internalized, its ending no more than someone sitting down at a table and microphone. The filmmakers panic and try to turn it into the story of a marriage suddenly in mildly dire straits; when that thread proves unenlightening, here come the speeches the film had thus far heroically avoided.
But until then, Fair Game is effectively a bluff job, seducing us with a quick pace, lots of stressed-out chatter and, most surprisingly, relaxed and even funny turns from its two leads, who play people, not symbols. Until, ultimately, they are playing symbols, not people.