Fair Game

More Watery Eyes Than a Benedryl Ad


Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn

Written by Robert Patrick

When I saw the press screening of this film, nearly a month ago, I had taken a chisel to my hippocampus to make sure I remembered everything I needed to remember when swinging my fingers around on my keyboard and writing this review. I watched the film in a pose not unlike The Thinker, a statue by Auguste Rodin. The story was an Olympic-sized melodrama about the true life of Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), a CIA Operations Officer who came under fire in 2003 after a Washington Post journalist exposed her identity. Things worsened, as most avid news watchers know, when Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn) took on the White House. The story became a book, the book became a movie, the movie became maudlin dreck.

Doug Liman, director of the MTV Movie Awards nominated “Jumper”, apparently seemed like the best choice to orchestrate the floodgate of political drudgery in “Fair Game”. Liman leaves no political thriller cliché unturned, even procuring the obligatory “meet me at a park bench, I’ll be dressed in black, incognito, with a Mary Poppins umbrella though it’s not precipitating.” Much of the film is a filibuster for award consideration. You have all of the things the academy fawns over, including people wearing suits during precarious events and legions of actors with watering eyes. The trouble is, this theatrical retelling of a timely event is so boring that watching someone flip through a book of brail would be more entertaining.

Most of the drama revolves around reaction shots of politicians, which would be fine if there wasn’t a chorus line of them. The pacing and script is poor, sure, but the casting department clearly did their best to pluck their players from an A-List grab bag. Sean Penn was probably salivating at the maw when offered to play the role of someone willing to point out the ineptitude of the Bush administration. Meanwhile, Watts, who is proven to be the most reliable valve in the industry when called to turn on the tears, reprises her role as human-faucet-in-crisis-situation. Oh yes, there will be tears. Spit-bubbles form on her lips, in the style of soap suds, as she writhes in agony. Everyone knows the less dignified you look, the more the academy voters are willing to give you the coveted golden boy. And nobody looks less dignified than Watts in this movie, as pulpy toothpaste oozes out of her mouth in a scene where personal hygiene plays wingman to sloppy sobbing. A string of saliva attached to a strand of hair should nab her at least a Globe nod.

Sean Penn’s manic flailing is even better than the oozing contributions from Watts. “Valerie! Valerie Valerie!” he shouts, louder and louder, in a sort of feverish war cry, as to tell the audience just how badly their marriage is failing. This sort of emotional pandering should have been followed by Tommy Wiseau’s now classic exclamation: “You are tearing me apart!” When the two-stars aren’t at each others throats, they are necking in another way altogether. I never want to hear Sean Penn say “gratuitous sex” ever again. The heralded actor practically mauls Watts’ face during some of these scenes of kissing. But don’t worry, no Naomi Watts were hurt during the filming of this movie.

You could clearly do some research on this subject to save yourself the time of having to witness Penn curate the entire history lesson. Having the thespian in the picture, knowing his political background, clearly makes things more distracting than they should be. In a particular part of the film, Penn is even seen, in character, I presume, talking to kids at a high school about the importance of democracy. Later he sulks outside of the White House, as it sits there, looking like an ominous dome of doom, while he thinks about the injustices of the government. Not that I think the politics of this country are flawless, in fact I think they’re not, but I don’t want to hear it from Sean Penn, who is notoriously boisterous about getting political face-time. I could flip on CNN and see Penn talking about the same thing for free. No, this movie exists as an award platform for its two leads. Otherwise, it’s a benign exercise in poor filmmaking. I’ll do more investigating into the true story myself, instead of having Penn and company play a Powerpoint presentation for me.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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