-

Jump to content



Photo
Blu-ray Reviews

FAIR GAME Blu-ray (2010)



This topic has been archived. This means that you cannot reply to this topic.
9 replies to this topic

#1 of 10 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

Michael Reuben

    Studio Mogul

  • 21,769 posts
  • Join Date: Feb 12 1998

Posted March 23 2011 - 04:26 PM

http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/

Fair Game (Blu-ray)



Fair Game is the story of Valerie Plame, the former covert CIA operative “outed” by columnist Robert Novak. The resulting scandal ultimately led to the conviction of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, for obstruction of justice and other charges. Based on books by both Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson, and directed by Doug Liman, who created the Bourne franchise, the film is tautly balanced between spy film, political thriller and marital drama. It’s also classical in its approach to portraying history, because the Plame scandal (or “Plamegate”) was one of many ingredients in the witches’ brew of political conflict over the war in Iraq. Thus, the film presents world events from the point of view of specific individuals who will, in short order, become footnotes to history, but, at a critical juncture, are in just the right place to experience momentous occurrences as personal cataclysms. Naomi Watts is outstanding as Plame, and Sean Penn is every bit her match as Wilson in an honest and often less than flattering portrait.


 

 

Studio: Summit Entertainment

Rated: PG-13

Film Length: 108 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

HD Encoding: 1080p

HD Codec: AVC

Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1; Spanish DD 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

MSRP: $30.49

Disc Format: 1 25 GB*

Package: Keepcase

Theatrical Release Date: Nov. 5, 2010

Blu-ray Release Date: Mar. 29, 2011

 

*The disc jacket states “dual layer”, but the disc is a BD-25.

 

 

The Feature:

 

If the names “Plame” and “Wilson” are at all familiar, then you probably recall the basics of Fair Game’s story. Plame was a career CIA employee, whose job was known outside the agency only to her husband and parents. She specialized in tracking weapons of mass destruction.

 

On July 14, 2003, Plame’s identity was disclosed by syndicated Washington Post columnist Robert Novak. Novak was responding to arguments by Plame’s husband, Joe Wilson, in the New York Times a week earlier that the intelligence on which the U.S. had gone to war in Iraq had been manipulated. Wilson, a recently retired career diplomat, had traveled to the African nation of Niger in February 2002 at the request of the CIA to investigate reports that Iraq had purchased large quantities of processed uranium, known as “yellowcake”. Having spent substantial time as a U.S. official in both Africa and Iraq, Wilson concluded after a lengthy inquiry that the reports were unfounded, and he so reported when he returned to Washington. He was therefore surprised to hear President Bush declare, in the 2003 State of the Union Address, that “[t]he British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa”. In his Times editorial, Wilson posed the question of whether his findings had simply been ignored.

 

Plame’s career as a CIA officer was ended when her name became public knowledge. Plame and Wilson believed that the timing of Novak’s column was not a coincidence. By the summer of 2003, the failure to find even the most rudimentary nuclear weapons program or, indeed, any WMDs in Iraq had become both a PR and a political problem for the administration. The Wilsons saw Novak’s column as a warning to anyone who dared question the decision to go to war that dire consequences would follow. They were (and remain) certain that Plame’s “outing” was engineered at the highest levels of government. In Fair Game, we see the issue being discussed, but only indirectly, between Scooter Libby (David Andrews) and Karl Rove (Adam LeFevre) after the President’s press secretary (Geoffrey Cantor) suffers an embarrassing grilling from reporters about Wilson’s New York Times column. But the film stops short of actually making either of these men the leakers, because, as disclosed in the end titles, Richard Armitage, a deputy secretary of state, ultimately admitted to being Novak’s source (a fact confirmed by Novak).

 

Fair Game takes this story out of the newsroom and makes it personal and immediate. As Plame, Naomi Watts goes about the business of gathering intelligence with professionalism, focus and intensity. She seeks out sources at home and in the Middle East, impersonating whomever she has to be to get close to the potential “asset”. Once in contact, she uses deception, enticement, intimidation – every psychological weapon at hand to obtain the asset’s cooperation. The scenes in which she persuades an Iraqi immigrant, a doctor (Liraz Charhi), to return to Baghdad to obtain information from her brother, a scientist in the nuclear program, are tense and harrowing, because Plame knows she’s putting the woman at mortal risk, and does it anyway.

 

At the end of each mission, Plame goes home to her husband and children and pretends to be an ordinary working mom. She’s in venture capital, she tells their friends, played by an ensemble of reliable character actors that includes Tom McCarthy, Jessica Hecht, Norbert Leo Butz and Brooke Smith. At work, she sits in unglamorous cubicles, offices and conference rooms (entirely authentic, according to the real Valerie Plame’s commentary), poring through files, peering at aerial photographs or debating the potential use of aluminum tubing acquired by Saddam Hussein. The key to lying effectively, Plame tells the Iraqi doctor, is knowing what’s truly important. Plame does, or at least she thinks so.

 

When Plame’s cover is blown, she watches helplessly in horror and disbelief as her former colleagues turn their backs (it’s the real-world version of being “disavowed”). Then the media commentariat begins churning out nonsense, and the death threats start arriving from zealots and nut jobs. Eventually she loses every bearing on which she’s relied and has to seek guidance from the one person who has clearly been the polestar of her life: her father, a retired air force lieutenant colonel played by Sam Shepard, who seems to have become the go-to actor for all sorts of American fathers. (Polly Holliday plays her mother in a small but sharply drawn role.)

 

By this point in Fair Game, the Wilson marriage has come apart. Watts and Penn so convincingly chart its disintegration under the barrage of exterior assaults and interior recriminations that the viewer feels like a domestic spy. Penn has the less appealing role here, because Wilson is the less sympathetic character, and Penn is too truthful an actor to disguise his flaws. An experienced and accomplished man who had personally faced off with Saddam and been hailed as an American hero by the first President Bush, Wilson has a patrician arrogance about him that Penn conveys perfectly, whether during dinner scenes with friends or while delivering his Niger report to impassive CIA officers over Chinese food in his dining room. Obviously used to deference, Wilson can be something of a blowhard. He clearly expects his report to be taken as the last word on the subject and is unwilling accept a role as (in his wife’s phrase) a small cog in the intelligence machine.

 

When no WMDs are found in Iraq, Penn shows you Wilson’s slow burn until he explodes in his Times editorial, heedless of the risk to which he’s exposing his wife and family by publicly calling out not just the entire executive branch, but all of its supporters as well. After the Novak column appears, Wilson goes on the attack, talking to every reporter, appearing on every news show, still behaving as if the controversy were about him. Meanwhile, his wife is being investigated by her own agency and frozen out by her former colleagues. Only gradually does Wilson begin to understand that he isn’t primarily the one at risk, but by then his wife has taken their children and left for her parents’ home. Only at that point, when Wilson begins to fall apart, does he start to become likeable. And only at that point do husband and wife finally begin communicating for real.

 

The film’s conclusion intercuts scenes of Wilson giving a classroom lecture with Plame arriving on Capitol Hill to testify. Wilson’s lecture dominates the soundtrack, and it’s based on actual presentations. If you just listen to the words, it might appear that the film is leaving you with the standard “Mr. Smith” message about speaking truth to power. But film is a visual medium, and Liman is too smart a director to waste its potential. In contrast to the sparse gathering Wilson attracted for a lecture early in the film, the enthusiastic audience he’s addressing at the end fills every seat in a huge auditorium. The image conveys more than anything Wilson says. An informal coalition of politicians and pundits may have put Wilson and Plame through the wringer, but they also made them celebrities, and that’s a risky strategy if you’re trying to marginalize someone.

 

In a line which the real Wilson uses frequently, he asks the audience whether anyone can remember the sixteen words in the 2003 State of the Union that he says “led us to war”. It’s an obvious exaggeration, but no one can remember anything about that very important speech from January 2003. Then Wilson asks who knows his wife’s name, and the entire audience raises their hands and calls out “Valerie Plame”. That allows Wilson to ask the key question: How did it happen that they know the name of a covert CIA operative more readily than they know about a discredited claim of a uranium sale that was presented to Congress by the President as a ground for war? How did Valerie Plame become “fair game” while everyone forgot about cherrypicked intelligence?

 

It’s still a good question.

 

 

Video:

 

Fair Game was shot with the Red One digital camera, producing a clear, detailed image with colors that are just slightly over-saturated. Most scenes are brightly, even harshly lit, as if to emphasize that everything is out in the open, and concealment is a precarious act of will power and constant vigilance. Black levels are excellent, and the color pallette generally tends toward cool blues, because there’s little warmth in either the intelligence community or the corridors of power. As noted in my review of Winter’s Bone, images captured by the Red One camera compress efficiently, and given the disc’s lack of major extras, the absence of any digital artifacts or evidence of noise reduction is unsurprising.

 

 

Audio:

 

Presented in DTS lossless, Fair Game’s soundtrack is active and immersive without being action-movie aggressive. Locations such as restaurants and offices have low-level noises (dishes clattering, keyboards clacking) placed discreetly in the surrounds to give a sense of the environment. More exotic locales, such as pre-war Baghdad, have distant sounds of crowds vehicles and markets, and scenes during the coalition bombardment are marked by an audio assault that is all the more shocking for its contrast with the relatively quiet majority of the film. Dialogue is always clear and well-recorded. The forceful score was contributed by Liman’s frequent collaborator, John Powell, who scored all three Bourne films, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Jumper.

 

 

Special Features:

 

Commentary by Valerie Plame Wilson and Joe Wilson. Anyone expecting heated rhetoric will be disappointed. For one thing, the Wilsons have obviously moved on with their lives, having relocated to Santa Fe (as noted at the end of the film) and placed the era depicted in the film firmly behind them. The conviction of Scooter Libby seems to have provided a sense of closure. Even if, as Wilson’s character says in the film, Libby was only “taking the fall” for others, the special prosecutor’s actions provided some measure of accountability and vindication.

 

But a more basic reason for the Wilsons’ reserve is the sheer oddity of watching themselves being portrayed on-screen by actors, in this instance very fine actors. Anyone who has been married for a long time will be amused at the way Wilson and Plame keep asking each other whether they’re really like that. (Wilson asks it a lot more than Plame.) The answer is almost always “yes”, because both Watts and Penn thoroughly prepared for their roles. Every so often, the Wilsons will agree that a particular phrase in the script is something they wouldn’t say, but in general their praise for the film’s authenticity is high. (Plame says that the scene where she introduces Wilson to be interviewed for the fact-finding trip to Niger is extremely accurate.)

 

The novelty of watching their story may cause the Wilsons to stop talking too often at the outset, but by the end they’re talking steadily, and it’s particularly interesting to compare their vocal cadences to the performances by Watts and Penn. (Plame appears in the film over the closing credits, but she was testifying before Congress and her tone wasn’t conversational.)

 

Trailers. The features menu contains no trailers. At startup the disc plays trailers for Source Code and The Beaver. These can be skipped with the chapter forward button.

 

 

In Conclusion:

 

A famous maxim attributed to many historical figures (and ultimately traced to an obscure policeman during the French Revolution) holds: “That is worse than a crime; it is a mistake.” Whoever made the decision to “out” Valerie Plame as a covert CIA employee, whether it was Scooter Libby, Robert Novak or someone else, should have considered the principle. The immediate goal may have been to “change the story” from Joe Wilson’s accusations, but the changers forgot an important detail: The story is always changing. Whether one regards the media as liberal, conservative, incompetent or captive to the government, they are still, first and foremost, media, and they’re always desperate for new product. This month’s hero of the hour is next month’s man in the dock, which is why the same reporters that were happy to crucify Plame and Wilson eagerly turned on Libby when the opportunity presented itself.

 

Change the story, but don’t create martyrs. Otherwise, you’re liable to be confronted one day by your victims backed by reporters, congressional committees, special prosecutors and, if you’re really unlucky, a talented film director, all pointing fingers and calling out, “J’accuse!”

 

 

Equipment used for this review:

 

Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)

Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)

Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough

Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier

Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears

Boston Acoustics VR-MC center

SVS SB12-Plus sub


COMPLETE list of my disc reviews.       HTF Rules / 200920102011 Film Lists

#2 of 10 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

Adam Gregorich

    Executive Producer

  • 14,831 posts
  • Join Date: Nov 20 1999
  • LocationThe Other Washington

Posted March 23 2011 - 04:45 PM

Thanks for the review Michael.  Having the actual people do a commentary about their own story is a very interesting special feature, especially considering what the story was.  I think that feature alone may make this worth a purchase for me.



#3 of 10 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

Cameron Yee

    Executive Producer

  • 10,507 posts
  • Join Date: May 09 2002
  • Real Name:Cameron Yee
  • LocationSince 2006

Posted March 24 2011 - 06:39 AM

Sounds really interesting, including the commentary.


One thing leads to another at cameronyee.com

#4 of 10 OFFLINE   JoeDoakes

JoeDoakes

    Screenwriter

  • 1,952 posts
  • Join Date: Apr 01 2009
  • Real Name:Ray

Posted March 24 2011 - 07:46 AM

People should realize that almost all of this film is fiction.  When Novak wrote his collumn, Plame was a desk jockey in Virginia (a WMD analyst), and had not done anything covert for years.  If she had wanted to, she easily could have stayed at the CIA.  You do not need covert status to be an analyst.  As a consequence of Novak's collumn, Plame (1) lost the ability to do covert work in the future if she had wanted to; (2) got a photo spread in Vanity Fair; (3) got  $1 million+ book and movie deals; (4) got a lucrative public speaking deal (I think).  The person who told Novak that she worked for the CIA was Richard Armitage, a man who was not a booster of the Iraq war and who mentioned her name inadvertantly.  Valerie Plame's name should not have been put in the press, but it was not the big national security deal this film suggests.



#5 of 10 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

Michael Reuben

    Studio Mogul

  • 21,769 posts
  • Join Date: Feb 12 1998

Posted March 24 2011 - 08:51 AM


Originally Posted by JoeDoakes 

. . . but it was not the big national security deal this film suggests.


This sounds like some extreme claims that have been made from time to time, but it certainly doesn't resemble the film I saw. Have you seen Fair Game?


COMPLETE list of my disc reviews.       HTF Rules / 200920102011 Film Lists

#6 of 10 OFFLINE   JoeDoakes

JoeDoakes

    Screenwriter

  • 1,952 posts
  • Join Date: Apr 01 2009
  • Real Name:Ray

Posted March 24 2011 - 09:05 AM



Originally Posted by Michael Reuben 



This sounds like some extreme claims that have been made from time to time, but it certainly doesn't resemble the film I saw. Have you seen Fair Game?



 I was basing my comment upon the summary in the review.  Perhaps I could have phrased it better in terms of "big national security deal."  Fair enough.



#7 of 10 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

Michael Reuben

    Studio Mogul

  • 21,769 posts
  • Join Date: Feb 12 1998

Posted March 25 2011 - 03:10 AM


Originally Posted by JoeDoakes 

The person who told Novak that she worked for the CIA was Richard Armitage, a man who was not a booster of the Iraq war and who mentioned her name inadvertantly.


As noted in the review, the film discloses Armitage's role but doesn't pursue the issue in depth, because its focus, after the public disclosure, is on two people and their marriage. This isn't All the President's Men.


Still, the Armitage connection is intriguing, especially given what Novak had to say after he no longer felt obliged to protect his source. Novak had been rebuffed by Armitage for years, but suddenly in the summer of 2003, he got word that Armitage wanted to see him. The meeting was off the record, only the two men were present, and no notes were kept -- so the only way to know what happened was to ask the two participants. As is so often the case, their accounts differed -- in this case, wildly. Armitage said his mention of Plame's name was inadvertent. Novak said it was knowing, deliberate and accompanied by detailed information.


COMPLETE list of my disc reviews.       HTF Rules / 200920102011 Film Lists

#8 of 10 OFFLINE   PaulDA

PaulDA

    Screenwriter

  • 2,580 posts
  • Join Date: Feb 09 2004
  • Real Name:Paul
  • LocationSt. Hubert, Quebec, Canada

Posted May 06 2011 - 02:36 AM

Since Novak is dead, we will never know for sure.


Your review of the film mirrors my thoughts about it (just watched it a few nights ago). It is indeed not All the President's Men (though it will be viewed as such by a number of people). In some ways it reminds me of Green Zone--each film creates a superficial impression of "insight into the truth" about the WMD issue without actually specifically doing so (indeed, each filmmaker--coincidentally connected via their work on the Bourne series--explicitly denies doing so in interviews I've read).


I've used Green Zone (along with its "inspirational" text--Imperial Life in the Emerald City) in my Modern Middle Eastern history class. Fair Game might make an interesting addition to the assignment in future semesters (I'll have to read the books associated with the film in the near future). I have an ongoing research interest in the ways feature films influence public perceptions of history and while I usually focus on topics that are not so contemporary--circumstances have dictated that I turn my attention to events much more recent than my usual territory for historical feature films. Both Green Zone and Fair Game have the potential to increase the level of scepticism about the "path to war" above its already considerably high level, though they are likely most persuasive to those already so inclined. They also represent an ongoing trend in using mainstream film to voice scepticism about a current or very recent conflict--something that would have been unthinkable in the Second World War, or even the Korean War, but which began to manifest itself in the 1960s. Perhaps there is fodder for further historical research here (on historical feature films in general, as well as the films made about the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan).


Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes time, and it annoys the pig.

#9 of 10 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

Michael Reuben

    Studio Mogul

  • 21,769 posts
  • Join Date: Feb 12 1998

Posted May 06 2011 - 03:17 AM



Originally Posted by PaulDA 

Since Novak is dead, we will never know for sure.




I doubt we'd know, even if he were alive. When the only records of a conversation are the memories of the two participants, and the conversation has since become a subject of legal inquiry and public controversy, how can either speaker's memory be trusted? In any case, Novak provided a detailed account in an online column that I find fascinating on a number of levels.


COMPLETE list of my disc reviews.       HTF Rules / 200920102011 Film Lists

#10 of 10 OFFLINE   PaulDA

PaulDA

    Screenwriter

  • 2,580 posts
  • Join Date: Feb 09 2004
  • Real Name:Paul
  • LocationSt. Hubert, Quebec, Canada

Posted May 09 2011 - 01:31 AM



Originally Posted by Michael Reuben 




I doubt we'd know, even if he were alive. When the only records of a conversation are the memories of the two participants, and the conversation has since become a subject of legal inquiry and public controversy, how can either speaker's memory be trusted? In any case, Novak provided a detailed account in an online column that I find fascinating on a number of levels.

I agree that even if he were alive, we'd very likely never know. Just my professional (historian) reaction to the fact that his death means we will definitely never get a final answer. It is something I keep stressing to my students (history does NOT provide us with definitive answers nearly as often as people think).


I find such films (Green Zone and Fair Game) interesting in the same way I find JFK interesting--they present a perspective on important events that feeds a sense of distrust and paranoia (though JFK, owing both to its subject matter and its director, has had far more effect than the other two) that is perhaps always latent. It will be interesting to see if Green Zone, Fair Game and any other similarly themed feature films about the Iraq war will have a cumulative effect similar to that of JFK (I find that most of my students' "pet theories" about the JFK assassination are directly lifted from scenes found in Stone's film--even if the students have not actually watched the film. Perhaps, in a few years, my students in Modern Middle Eastern history or US history courses focused on the post 1945-era will have notions about the "path to war" to Iraq that are influenced by a collective of films including Green Zone and Fair Game.) Questions like these are why I have an ongoing research interest in the ways feature films influence public perceptions of historical events.


Thanks for the link to Novak's column. It does indeed raise a number of interesting points and I would include it in any discussion of the events surrounding the Plame affair if I made it part of a course (along with the film, at least, and possibly the books attached to the film).



Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes time, and it annoys the pig.