Well, so maybe November wasn't the perfect month to roll out "Fair Game," director Doug Liman's handsome mixed-bag drama about the Valerie Plame affair and the Bush administration's war buildup, which stars Naomi Watts as the defrocked CIA agent and Sean Penn as Joseph Wilson, her ex-diplomat husband. Recent history, especially when it's this unpleasant, is often a pretty tough sell in the movies. And the filmmakers' efforts to turn l'affaire Plame into a rousing, Capra-esque populist fable were ruthlessly undercut earlier this week, with powerful evidence that We the People are incapable of learning anything from any kind of history, and just lurch from one pole to the other like drunken rats in an electrified maze.
Liman can insist all he wants that he didn't mean to make an agenda-driven political drama, but "Fair Game" will clearly play best among perennially outraged, left-leaning metropolitan viewers (who are pretty much the audience for this kind of Oscar bait in the first place). As I wrote after the film's Cannes premiere, I think the film's quasi-inspirational conclusion is at odds with the darker and more fatalistic sermon that it's preaching under the surface. But it's well worth catching, and both Penn and Watts are likely to be players in this winter's Oscar race. Here's most of my review from last May (edited slightly for context and clarity), along with some press-conference quotes from Liman and Naomi Watts.
See www.salon.com for full review