Political dramas can be real hit or miss. They can be weighed down by long, drawn-out dialogue, overcome with action sequences and a weak storyline, or their message gets somehow buried with lots of political jargon and action sequences with no real impact. Done well, they can have that perfect blend of plot and effects to ensure audiences stay invested in the entire movie.
In Fair Game, which was inspired by actual events, audiences were let down by a played out storyline, and one we've seen--done better--several times before. The story goes like this: The identity of CIA Operative Valerie Plume (Naomi Watts) is leaked by the government when her politically strung-out husband former US Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson (Sean Penn) writes an explosive article criticizing the Bush administration. With her job now on the line and her identity exposed, Valerie and Joe's marriage begins to crumble as they both start to question each other's motives. Joe urges Valerie to come out with her story, but for obvious reasons she is reluctant. But the longer Valerie remains mum, the more media begins to speculate and the tougher Joe feels compelled to fix the damage with more political rants aimed now at the media. All the while, a top-secret operation overseas is jeopardized and lives are at stake.
Clearly there's a lot going on here, but the somewhat interesting plot was further complicated by Penn's overacting and his lack of chemistry with Watts here (who he's actually worked well with before in 2003's 21 Grams). Penn's performance is muddled by screaming outbursts--often not even appropriate for the scene--that really take away from what could have been a more compelling character. Watts seems to be really underplaying her character here. Her performance is quite subdued given her character's circumstances and at times audiences may not know whether or not to root for her. That actually was the interesting part--Watts played either a deplorable or a celebrated character, depending on your own outlook, which kept her character interesting. But, since it seemed that Watts and Penn were acting in a different movie the entire time, whenever they did share a scene it felt lost and lightened whatever impact the movie might have achieved otherwise.
It is, however, worth noting that the buried storyline--the overseas operation--was quite compelling. It would have been more compelling had it had more screen time. Liraz Charhi is very good as the sister of one of the main man Valerie was trying to recruit for information. Too bad we didn't get to see more from her. Fair Game was in no way a terrible movie, but with a scattered storyline and somewhat caricature-like performances by both leads, it failed to connect as it should have. A more recommended movie that conveyed a similar messages, more seamlessly, is 2008's Nothing But the Truth.