Movie Reviews Fair Game
Thus far virtually every film that has had the Iraq war as its backdrop has struggled at the box office -- and that includes the one that won the Academy Award as last year's best motion picture. Fair Game, which was the only U.S. film selected for the competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival, is opening in fewer than 50 theaters this weekend. Whether it will be expanded into many more is likely to be determined by whether audiences respond to it with any more enthusiasm than they have to the previous ones. Much, it would seem, depends on how they feel about the justification for the war itself -- that Saddam Hussein posed a dire danger to the interests of the United States and its partners in the Middle East, particularly in the wake of 9/11. The film tells the true story of former career diplomat Joseph Wilson, who was sent to Niger to investigate rumors that the country was selling yellowcake uranium to Iraq. Although Wilson reported back conclusively that no such sales were taking place, President Bush ignored his report and claimed in a State of the Union address that they were, prompting Wilson to write an op-ed article in the New York Times disputing him. A week later, columnist Robert Novak, citing White House officials, outed Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent. The movie, which stars Sean Penn as Wilson and Naomi Watts as Plame, deals as much with the strain the events placed on their marriage as it does with the events themselves. Most of the reviews of the film reflect the political bent of the reviewers. Kyle Smith, the conservative New York Post critic who often rips into Hollywood films that display liberal bias, does so with gusto with this one, calling it a "histrionic and shamelessly misleading wonk-work." Smith expresses confidence that few people will bother to see a movie about "a footnote to an asterisk to a parenthetical clause of history." Ty Burr in the Boston Globe, while acknowledging that the movie deals with "one of the more shameful subchapters in Washington history," goes on to describe it as "one of those nobly intended affairs in which Important Stars explain to us how we've been screwed by our elected representatives." Contrast all of that with the review by the New York Times's A.O. Scott, who calls Fair Game "a terrifically entertaining movie" and praises the "energy and agility of the performances" by Penn and Watts and director Doug Liman's "fast and fluid style." As a Canadian, Peter Howell in the Toronto Star brings an outsider's perspective to the plot. "What's really scary is how nobody seems to care all that much, and that includes the current occupant of the White House. It's just dirty business as usual." And Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times suggests that Liman might have produced a far more intriguing film if he had spent less time on how the political drama affected the lives of the Wilsons. "It just isn't compelling ," he argues. "Though that dynamic is of interest, it is frankly dwarfed by the outrage you have to feel at both the misuse of governmental power and the pro-war propaganda offensive, and that unbalances the film."