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The Quest for Truth Fuels Fair Game

  • Christa Banister Contributing Writer
  • Updated Apr 18, 2013
The Quest for Truth Fuels <i>Fair Game</i>

DVD Release Date: March 29, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: November 5, 2010 (limited); November 12, 2010 (expands)
Rating: PG-13 (for some language)
Genre: Drama, Suspense, Adaptation
Run Time: 108 min.
Director: Doug Liman
Actors: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Sonya Davison, Ty Burrell, Jessica Hecht, Norbert Leo Butz, Rebecca Rigg, Brooke Smith, Thomas McCarthy, Ashley Gerasimovich, Quinn Broggy

In stark contrast to everyone's favorite big-screen spies James Bond, Jason Bourne and even Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as the secret assassins Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Fair Game provides a gripping, behind-the-scenes glimpse of how complicated life really is when someone's working undercover.

As it turns out, having a secret identity without the benefit of Aston Martin ownership and missions to some of Europe's poshest locales isn't all that much fun or glamorous at all—especially if you're Valerie Plame.

Serving as a CIA operative, Plame, who's convincingly portrayed by Oscar-nominee Naomi Watts, has the unenviable task of building relationships with people who have every right not to trust her. And when she's not skillfully repackaging the truth to accomplish her endgame, she's conducting valuable research, collecting secrets and threatening some really scary people in the process, something that requires courage, good judgment and intelligence in spades.          

Then once the workday is done, Valerie is the master of compartmentalization as a doting wife and mother of twins who regularly cooks dinner, does the laundry and arranges playdates. In fact, as trying as her day-to-day responsibilities are on the job, she's got a pretty good system in place to make sure her family is taken care of, too—one that she's happy with anyway.

Naturally, all of that changes dramatically when her husband Joe (Sean Penn), an outspoken former U.S. ambassador, has a very pointed op-ed piece published in The New York Times that criticizes the White House for a lack of concrete proof that Saddam Hussein did indeed have weapons of mass destruction. In fact, Joe, who was considered something of an African expert, was even sent to Niger on a fact-finding mission to see if the country sold the yellowcake uranium ore to Iraq, and he came back with no evidence of the aforementioned weapons transaction.

Believing he did the right thing by speaking out against the perceived injustice, his comments certainly don't go unnoticed by the White House. Eight days after The New York Times column ran, retaliation arrived in the form of a story written by Washington Post columnist Robert Novak. Supposedly acting on the information provided by White House officials, Robert outs Joe's wife as a CIA agent, which not only exposes her, but puts several of her sources in jeopardy as well.

Based on the memoirs written by Joe and Valerie, not to mention court transcripts that have recently been made available, Fair Game showcases their side of the story in vivid, engaging detail. Even as well-acted and intriguing as the movie is, however, it's still unlikely to change anyone's mind because the opposing viewpoint doesn't even have a voice in the matter.

Even more curious is why Penn was so interested in beating the proverbial dead horse in the first place. But no matter where someone falls politically, what's probably the most compelling storyline in Fair Game is how the quest for truth impacted Joe and Valerie's marriage. While it's clear from the outset that the couple genuinely cares about each other, the film explores the price of standing up for what you believe in, no matter the cost.

If pressed, many of us would probably be quick to agree that it's always the best course of action. But the idea of the "truth always setting you free" isn't quite so black and white in Fair Game, particularly when the welfare of your own family is involved. And the quest for truth (and the often high price that comes with it) is what makes Fair Game so provocative, even if you can see Penn's predictable political agenda coming from a mile away.       


  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Social drinking plus cigar and cigarette smoking.
  • Language/Profanity:  God's name is misused several times, plus two uses of the "f" word and other slang that stands in for it. A smattering of other profanity including he--, as- and bit--. 
  • Sex/Nudity:  Joe requests "gratuitous sex" from his wife when he returns from a fact-finding trip. We don't see anything but passionate kissing. Valerie is accused of being a "Commie" whore and is asked whether she's had lovers all over the world. A man makes a pass at Valerie (he'd been checking her out regularly before) while in the car.
  • Violence:  Most of the violence in Fair Game is of the verbal variety. Valerie says she receives death threats every day. An Iraqi scientist and his son also get caught up in a gun battle. While they make it out of the situation safely, we never know if they're rescued because Valerie's cover is blown.


Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.