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Cannes Critical Consensus: 'Fair Game'

May 20, 2010 |  7:48 pm


"Fair Game" director Doug Liman  ("The Bourne Identity," "Swingers," "Mr. and Mrs. Smith") is apparently not going to get rave reviews from Fox News.

Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, the filmmaker's dramatization of how he believes CIA operative Valerie Plame and her husband, retired ambassador Joe Wilson, were thrown under the bus by the George W. Bush administration and its supporters drew mostly positive marks after its Thursday screening.

The only American film playing in the festival's main competition category, "Fair Game" is set to be released by Summit Entertainment this year.  

A roundup of the early notices:

Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter:  "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. Nonetheless, Liman and his collaborators strive to locate the human element amid the clutter of spin, hypocrisy and partisan rhetoric. One can count on more op-ed pieces and political controversy when Summit releases the picture in the fall."

Justin Chang, Variety:  "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."

Joe Utichi, Cinematical:  "Adapted for the big screen, 'Fair Game' is a political thriller akin to 'State of Play' or 'Spy Game,' but that it's drawn straight from life makes it all the more compelling. For Liman, this is a more serious piece of cinema than he's delivered to date, but his action chops mean it's a film which maintains its tension from scene one, even if there are no big action moments to fall back on."

Donald Clarke, Irish Times:  "Distinguished playwright Jez Butterworth has come together with his brother John to deliver a masterfully economical script. The film-makers have a great deal of complex information to get across in the opening hour, but the story comes through with impressive lucidity. Despite seeming a little fragile for a tough CIA operative, Naomi Watts does solid work as Plame, and Sean Penn, playing Wilson, is effective as an opinionated loudmouth who is rarely at home to tact."

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "Greeted with solid applause and a smattering of boos after its first press screening, 'Fair Game' has an enjoyable opening hour before disintegrating into melodramatic hooey. Naomi Watts ... plays Plame as a no-nonsense operative who’s always rushing, whether at home tending her family or in the dreary basement halls of the Central Intelligence Agency or on the streets of a foreign country. Sean Penn, who plays Ms. Plame’s husband, skipped Cannes to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the need for continued relief for Haiti."

Brad Brevet, Rope of Silicon:  "Watts and Penn are excellent in the two lead roles of a couple doing what they can to survive as their government has thrown them under the bus for telling the truth. As Joe, Penn is forced to carry the brunt of the load as a disgraced ambassador called a liar. Outside of the distracting bird's nest on Penn's head, his performance is top notch and thankfully underplayed as Penn often loves to ramp up the drama for more emotional scenes."

--John Horn

Photo of Naomi Watts and Sean Penn in "Fair Game": Summit Entertainment

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