Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fair Game Blu-ray Review

Fair Game is a film about how Valerie Plame Wilson’s secret role as a agent for the CIA was blown due for political reasons when her husband Joe Wilson wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times decrying the intelligence being used to justify a war in Iraq.  Directed by Doug Liman who also directed The Bourne Identity, Fair Game is an interesting glimpse into some real life events that exposed some ugly truths about politics and international brinkmanship.

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

The movie is based on the novels “My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House,” and “Inside the Lies that Put the White House on Trial and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity: A Diplomat’s Memoir,” which were written by Valerie Plame Wilson and Joe Wilson respectively and who were also involved in the making of the film which gives it more authenticity.
Naomi Watts stars as Valeria Plame Wilson who is a covert agent for the Central Intelligence Agency and part of a Counter-Proliferation team that’s trying to ascertain whether or not Saddam Hussein is actively trying to make weapons of mass destruction.  When some aluminum tubes are discovered, it’s automatically assumed that they are used for enriching  uranium even though as Ms. Wilson points out, that supposition is hardly likely since the use of those tubes for that process were no longer used.
Her husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), is a former ambassador who was sent to Africa to determine if there was in fact a sale of uranium from Niger since there was an intelligence report stating that yellowcake uranium was sold from Niger to Iraq.  When Wilson doesn’t discover any proof of that transaction, his report falls on deaf ears and is ignored by the powers that be.  After watching George W. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address where the President said, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” Wilson immediately attempts to determine if the Africa report was the same one that he investigated.  Once he discovers that it was the same report, he writes an op-ed piece for the New York Times that challenges the report’s findings which does not please the White House.
The Wilsons soon discover that Valerie’s cover is blown and her career as a covert agent is over.  As a side note, although the movie insinuates that Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff  Lewis “Scooter” Libby was the main person responsible for the leak, it was later revealed that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and the President’s Special Advisor Karl Rove were the two main sources for Robert Novak’s column that exposed her identity.  Libby was involved and was the only person to be indicted and was convicted on March 6, 2007, on four counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements. He was acquitted of one count of making false statements.  Libby was sentenced to thirty months of prison and a $250,000 fine, but President Bush later commuted his sentence thereby voiding the prison term.
The strain of the loss of Valerie’s pension, her future, and the personal reverberations of having a secret life exposed to her friends and the world at large, cause a deep rift with her husband.  Knowing that the exposure was payback for the article he had written, Joe is both devastated but also defiant as he believes he did the right thing but exposing the inaccuracies of the report.  With the political machine against them, the Wilsons only have each other to lean on as they try to spread their side of the story in an attempt to get some justice.
Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are very good in their roles and have even captured the essence of the people they are portraying, according to the Wilsons themselves during their audio commentary.  I liked the movie and found it to be interesting especially since I had followed the news reports from when it happened.  While the movie did a good job showing the after-effects of having her identity revealed, I wish it had gone into more detail.
In addition, the movie has a nice balance between the Wilsons and the government employees until Ms. Wilson is exposed and from then on, it’s a one-sided affair with the Wilsons.  The only time we hear another viewpoint is through news items which is unfortunate because I think it would have added extra authenticity to the movie.  I admit, since this movie is based on the Wilsons’ memoirs that it makes sense to follow their story, but I just wanted more information.  The movie ends with Ms. Wilson taking the stand to tell her side of the story but I think they also should have added an epilogue that showed the Wilsons taking their civil court case all the way to the Supreme Court only to have it dismissed.

Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This is a very nice 1080p (2.39:1) transfer from Summit Entertainment that offers a lot of nice details as far as facial expressions and textures go but with a less than warm look.  It reminded me of a Tony Scott film, with its tendency to use cold gray and blue colors that I think may have been chosen to give the film a dispassionate feel to better convey the facts being presented.  Flesh tones are natural and consistent and I really thought the black levels were solid and appropriately inky.  Some scenes, like when Wilson is sent to Africa offer an over-saturated look but it adds a nice contrast to the scenes back in Washington D.C. where the colors are muted.  A very nice transfer overall!

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

The film’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix was surprisingly excellent for this kind of dialogue driven film.  While there were a few instances of the dialogue being lower in volume than I would have liked, this mix as a whole was very immersive and made good use of all of the channels.  With scenes showing combat in Iraq the mix come to life to provide solid punch.  Other scenes in the African village, or the bar where the Wilsons visit with friends offers nice atmospheric immersion and nice directionality.  Composer John Powell’s score is brilliantly woven into the movie and adds a good kick to the mix as well.

Special Features (1 out of 5 stars) 

For a movie that could have offered a wealth of easily obtained extras, this disc only offers commentary by the Wilsons which is disappointing and puzzling.  News footage could have been easily obtained, articles could have been included, interviews conducted, and an epilogue could have been included here as well.  At the very least they could have included interviews with the cast and crew of the movie.
  • Audio commentary by Valeria Plame Wilson and Joe Wilson – As much as I would have liked more extras on this disc, this commentary was a pretty good one.  The Wilsons talk about the events being portrayed and comment on the story, the movie, and the actors portrayal of them.  They seem very pleased at how the movie turned out and add extra information that wasn’t included in the movie.

Final Thoughts (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Doug Liman did a good job on this movie but I still feel like it’s missing something.  The performances are extremely good and I appreciated the efforts to make the movie as authentic as possible.  Summit Entertainment did a great job with the audio/visual aspects of this release but the lack of special features is disappointing and brought down the final score.  Nevertheless, I recommend the movie and hope you enjoy it!
Fair Game will be released March 29, 2011 so pre-order your copy today!

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