Summer hasn’t even begun and yet we here at Big Hollywood are already looking toward the fall for the big screen debut of Fair Game. Notice I say “looking toward,” not “looking forward to.” Believe me, there’s a big difference.
Marriage Encounter? Or propaganda?
Anyhoo, Sean Penn dusts off his acting chops — more like jowls these days — to play Joe Wilson, wannabe high rolling diplomat and husband of Valerie Plame (played by Naomi Watts), who claims her CIA cover was blown by the Bush White House in an attempt to make Joe Wilson look like a fool for his op-ed in the New York Times that claimed the Bush administration misled Congress and the public on the need for war with Iraq.
But you all know the story. Suffice it to say, there was no conspiracy to “out” her, and it was Richard Armitage, a State Department staffer and noted Bush critic — not Bush chief of staff Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, or Darth Cheney — who casually mentioned her name to the late Robert Novak. The whole incident, which should have been a big fat nothing, turned into a huge political bombshell that dominated the headlines for weeks and months, and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, VP Dick Cheney’s assistant of national security, ended up being convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Regardless of where you stand on the “he said, she said” aspect of this whole affair, you’ll likely agree that what transpired publicly after Robert Novak’s column that mentioned Plame’s name was published was politically motivated.
So how on earth could a movie about so recent an event in American history that created so much controversy be viewed as anything but political? I mean, who cares about “the episode’s impact on [Wilson’s and Plame’s] marriage”? In his Sucker Punch squad post about the Fair Game script, BH’s Mark Tapson lays out the narrative:
Would it really come as a surprise to hear that the script paints the entire Bush administration as power-mad schemers, and the Wilsons as courageous patriots putting themselves on the line to save the lives of American soldiers and defend our Constitutional rights? That it asserts that Bush’s abuses, not Saddam Hussein’s central role in international terrorism, constituted the real threat to this country? That a whole slew of critical CIA operations was abandoned, thanks to the vengeful outing of Valerie Plame, leaving many agents exposed in the field? And that as a result, Iraqi nuclear scientists (“the real WMDs,” as Watts/Plame says) defected to a welcoming Iran instead? If so, then I have some property in Death Valley I’d like to sell you.
But if you ask filmmaker Doug Liman, Fair Game is not political, but just an all-around great film:
I think it’s in the spectrum of “It’s a really great movie.” And a lot of other movies that have been about the war or dealt with the war have not been great movies. In fact, they’ve been motivated more by politics than by story, and that’s been a turn-off to audiences. This is sort of the first political movie that’s been made where I feel like the commitment was there from the first moment to story and character, and not to politics. (emphasis mine)
Yeah. Like I said before, who cares about how this affected Plame and Wilson personally? If that was the case, this should have been a Lifetime Television movie of the week, with all the saccharine-like emotion for which those movies are known.
Sean Penn’s attempt at looking like a “distinguished, older gentleman”
This kind of baloney is about selling a “we hate George Bush and his foreign policy” film to a public that has already turned thumbs-down to other anti-war, anti-Bush movies over the past decade. Face it – Hollywood thinks you’re as dumb as a box of rocks.
Yet a number of reviewers aren’t quite ready to jump on the rebranding bandwagon and are willing to call the movie exactly what it is – some in quite gleeful terms.
Jeffery Wells says it’s one of those films that “expose[s] right-wing scumbaggery” that gives him an “all-is-right-with-the-world feeling.”
Roger Ebert’s quickie synopsis of the film says little about the trials and tribulations suffered by Plame and Wilson in their marriage as a result of the chaos and focuses on – guess what? – the political aspects of the story.
Pete Hammond of Boxoffice Magazine starts his review this way: “After directing big crowd pleasers like The Bourne Identity and Mr and Mrs. Smith, Doug Liman takes a 180 degree turn in the politically explosive thriller, Fair Game.” He doesn’t exactly make it seem like a chick flick, does he?
Justin Chang of Variety writes:
Following “Green Zone” as another slightly dated attack on the Bush administration’s mishandling of Iraq, “Fair Game” serves up impeccable politics with a bit too much righteous outrage and not quite enough solid drama. Doug Liman’s film does a respectably intelligent job of spinning the Valerie Plame affair into a sleek mainstream entertainment that means to rouse one’s patriotic ire and at times stirringly succeeds. But the overall conception feels too streamlined to maximize the impact of leads Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, spelling an uncertain fall B.O. reception by a public that’s proven none too game for topical fare.
And Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter wonders, “Whether moviegoers even today can look at this real-life couple, extremely well-played by Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, without the distortion of political beliefs is uncertain.”
I’d take it a step further and say that it’s quite certain anyone who goes to see this movie, right or left, will see it through the distortion of their political beliefs. But what about those who don’t follow politics or even world events (I have a relative who brags about how deliberately uninformed she is about what goes on in the world outside her front door), will they be tempted to see this film because it’s supposedly all about story and character?
We’ll have to wait for the box office receipts come autumn to find out. So good luck to you, Doug Liman — I have the feeling you’re going to need it.