Fair Game, Naomi Watts, Sean Penn

Summit Entertainment

Review in a Hurry: Naomi Watts stars as CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose marriage to former ambassador Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn) became strained when he criticized the Bush administration. The Administration retaliated by outing his wife as an undercover operative. Directed as a suspense movie with primarily emotional stakes by Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity), it's a compelling drama that unfortunately will probably split audiences straight down partisan lines.

The Bigger Picture: People of opposing political stripes have differing opinions over what went down in the whole Valerie Plame incident. And while Fair Game definitely has a point of view (your first clue should be that it stars Sean Penn), its primary focus is on the effect outside politics can have on a marriage—when to fight back, when to back down for the good of personal harmony are all issues couple faces. But when the outside force clamping down is the White House, that's a whole new level of stress.

The movie also illustrates that lives were on the line, in scenes involving Plame's Mid-East allies that are amalgams of various events, a fact political critics will likely hone in on. They're also some of the most cinematic moments—Liman is, after all, an action guy at heart. Most of the action is of the personal kind, however, and he manages to shoot even intermarital arguments in intense fashion.

Though Penn doesn't look much like the real Wilson, he captures the man's cadences sufficiently. Watts, meanwhile, is definitely close enough for Plame. And Bruce McGill, who played the actual George Tenet in Oliver Stone's W, plays a thinly disguised version of him here again. The main bad guy is Dick Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and as embodied by David Andrews, he comes off as somewhat more theatrically villainous than the real deal, whose actual lack of charisma is decidedly uncinematic.

More oddball is the choice to have Karl Rove and Chris Matthews appear as themselves in actual news footage within the movie but also to have them played by look-alike/sound-alike actors when the need arises. The latter moments play as comic relief, but are they supposed to?

Right-wing blogs and media outlets play peripheral villains of sorts, too, and this may infuriate fans of Fox News and the like, as their portrayal is an overly broad caricature. The one nod to political evenhandedness involves a dinner-party scene in which Wilson, who has encountered Saddam Hussein face to face, verbally eviscerates a liberal guest who dares to suggest that the Iraqi dictator isn't remotely comparable to Hitler.

Overall, though, Fair Game prioritizes film-friendly drama over preachiness, and that makes it by far the most watchable of the recent crop of movies about current politics. Even if its issues are not your issues, the dynamic between Watts and Penn is worth a watch.

The 180—a Second Opinion: Presumably Karl Rove has his fans out there, since he's now a best-selling author and still on TV a lot. They will not enjoy the movie at all.

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