Buried under the docudrama surface of Fair Game is a vividly intense look at a political marriage under siege. Naomi Watts stars as Valerie Plame, the CIA operative whose covert status was leaked to the media in 2003 by the Bush White House. Why? Plame’s husband, retired ambassador Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), had returned from Niger to report that he found no evidence of WMDs being built by Saddam Hussein from Niger yellowcake uranium. Finding his words twisted, Wilson was eager to retaliate against the Bushwhackers and the leak, traced to Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby (David Andrews). Plame, with stealth in her DNA, was more reluctant. But the battle lines had been drawn, at home and in the corridors of power.
Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith), working from books by Plame and Wilson and a script by brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, spends too much time covering ground well known from the headlines. But the scenes of the couple at home with their children and friends are uniquely fascinating, if not, in Wilson’s words, “very 007-ish.” Watts (quietly seething) and Penn (he makes the bluntly outspoken Wilson hell at the dinner table) bring ferocity and feeling to their roles, turning a potent political thriller into a stirring, relatable human drama.