24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Fair Game

Cannes 2010: A video examination, Part 7

May 21, 2010 |  5:00 am

Is "Fair Game," the story of the Joe Wilson-Valerie Plame incident, a thrilling story of secret documents, or just a story of documents? The Times' Steven Zeitchik and the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips offer some hard-fought answers.

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."

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Cannes 2010: 'Fair Game's' fair response

May 20, 2010 |  1:27 pm

As we write this, "Fair Game," one of the Cannes Film Festival's most high-profile movies, is making its public premiere at the festival. It remains to be seen how the viewing public feels about the the Doug Liman-directed, Sean Penn- and Naomi Watts-starring drama about the Valerie Plame incident. But if it's anything like the way it played at the media unveiling earlier in the day, that should give film fans and distributor Summit mild, but not overly strong, encouragement.

The film, which is the only picture directed by an American to play in the festival's competition section, does a fine job of conveying the treacherous position that Plame and husband Joe Wilson found themselves in after the Bush administration, in a politically motivated gambit, helped out Plame as a CIA agent (without, interestingly, ever naming Robert Novak, the columnist who was the conduit of said outing). Liman — and, especially, the top-flight performances — convey the appropriate tension and injustice at the entire sordid matter.

But the film can't ultimately escape the fact that this is, essentially, a movie about people writing articles, who are writing articles about people who write reports. It's not a political thriller, despite a director skilled in same willing to deploy some thriller techniques, and the reaction in the press screening channeled as much. That should confirm what we suspected: This could pose some marketing issues for Summit, which hopes the topical film will be this year's "Hurt Locker" -- an awards powerhouse and media darling (though, of course, that film was hardly a box-office juggernaut either). (For more, check out Rachel Abramowitz's piece on the film in The Times.)

Several other things stood out at the post-screening news conference, including the absence of Sean Penn (reluctant to turn out for the dog-and-pony show — we mean, testifying before Congress) as well as Plame herself, who's in Cannes promoting a nuclear-nonproliferation documentary. Asked about her absence, Liman said that he had wanted her there too, but "we were told in the history of Cannes that we wouldn't normally bring the people who the film is based on to the press conference." We hope that changes for the U.S. rollout — Plame is a galvanizing and compelling figure, and she could be used to help sell the movie. The movie could use it.

— Steven Zeitchik, reporting from Cannes, France


Photo: A scene from "Fair Game." Credit: Cannes Film Festival.

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Summit among those who could play 'Fair Game'

April 22, 2010 |  4:47 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Sean Penn and the studio of "Twilight"?

For the last few days, several distributors have been circling the Joe Wilson-Valerie Plame drama "Fair Game," in which Penn stars as the truth-telling diplomat and Naomi Watts stars as Plame, his outed CIA agent wife. But one company has emerged as the lead contender to land the film about that ignoble chapter in American history -- and it's an interesting one.

Summit Entertainment, the mini-major best known for distributing the films in the Kristen Stewart vampire franchise, has an offer on the table. Although no deal is in place and several other studios are still in the mix -- these types of negotiations are famous for twisting in unexpected directions --  at the moment it looks as though Summit could well walk away with North American distribution rights.

Pen The deal would make sense on a number of levels. Although Summit is best known for commercial fare such as "Twilight," it got a pretty strong taste of awards glory when "The Hurt Locker" -- a movie about the Iraq war that it also acquired around the time of a major festival (after Toronto) -- captured the Academy Awards for best picture and director last month. Doug Liman's "Fair Game" is more overtly political and less action-oriented, but one can certainly imagine the company building a campaign around this one too, mobilizing critics and a certain group of tastemakers (and provoking certain Fox News pundits).

Summit will be peddling international rights to the film at the Cannes Film Festival next month via its foreign-sales arm. Could it also soon be readying a 2010 awards campaign?

--Steven Zeitchik

(Follow me on Twitter.)

Photo: Sean Penn and Naomi Watts in "Fair Game." Credit: River Road Entertainment


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