Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Sam Shepherd

Director: Doug Liman

CIA agent Valerie Plame finds her identity made public in the press after her husband, Joe Wilson, writes an article criticizing the Bush Administration’s policy toward WMDs in Iraq and the basis for going to war.

“When did the question move from ‘why are we going to war?’ to ‘who is this man’s wife?’.”

Not to be confused with the dreadful 1995 ‘thriller’ starring Cindy Crawford, although you could be mistaken for doing so given the weak title (Karl Rove is supposed to have referred to Plame as ‘fair game’) and the fact that this movie is being marketed as nothing more than a run-of-the-mill political pot-boiler, rather than the true-life account it alleges to be.

Doug Liman has been away from this sort of dialogue-driven movie for a long while. Having seen something of a slump since giving the world The Bourne Identity, with the entertaining but feather-light Mr and Mrs Smith and the frankly terrible Jumper, Liman comes back with a movie based on Plame’s own memoir, Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House.

This was never going to be a even-handed account of events, so it’s no surprise to see full-time Republican-basher Sean Penn in Fair Game, welcome though his presence always is. As US diplomat Joe Wilson, Penn actually turns in a rather unremarkable performance. Not bad, he’s incapable of that, but just nothing more than as required, as if he’s on autopilot. Wilson doesn’t come off as entirely likeable, either. Naomi Watts, equally incapable of turning in a stinker, fares a little better as the hard-working and earnest Plame, but the sparks you would expect between two such accomplished actors, especially two starring in their third movie together (after The Assassination of Richard Nixon and 21 Grams) just isn’t there. This hurts the movie to a degree since a large part of the drama revolves around the effects that Palme’s outing has on their marriage, a marriage apparently lacking any kind of spark.

More impressive are David Andrew’s appearances as the arrogant, scheming ‘Scooter’ Libby, who contrives to have Plame exposed by way of payback for Wilson’s critical article. Also to its credit, the movie takes time to represent those in Iraq itself, to some degree, although this doesn’t entirely save Fair Game from seeming a little preachy. However, depending on which side of this particular fence you sit on, you may not care about that and you may even enjoy it. This is the kind of film that will engage one group and enrage the other. I was engaged.

Sean cleverly removes the booger while no-one's looking

Liman’s direction is more restrained than in many of his previous outings, his hand-held camera doing its best to follow events rather than invade them. And while Fair Game is a competent, enjoyable addition to the growing volume of movies on America’s recent history, it lacks the punch to become a genuine classic.

The veracity of Plame’s account has been contended by some, not surprisingly. Much of the story is built on certifiable facts, but however true this admittedly one-sided presentation is, the fact that it seems so plausible, given what we now know about the truth of Bush’s reasons for invading Iraq, probably says enough.

Rating - 3 Stars