Fair Game (2010) Review

The saga depicted in Fair Game could not be more complex with its issues of foreign politics, international war, and American political games. Those who followed this wide ranging, seemingly never ending saga of exposed CIA agent Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) should connect the dots. Anyone outside of that circle… well, they have some work to do.

It comes down to pacing, the jumpy, often confused pacing and easily missed time line moving too brisk for the amount of information presented. Characters come in and then drop from the script, little establishing character resulting from this loosely connected style. Positions of power never feel entrenched, and Valerie shares little connection with her husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn). That relationship is limited by some of the most aggravating kids you’ll see a studio feature, butting into crucial conversations at key moments simply to establish a presence.

Sure, it’s important to have a home life, especially amidst the ensuing stress. It’s simply another thing on Plame’s plate as she struggles to keep up with a rapidly changing situation, one she has little control over. In terms of the screen, those kids just butt in, killing some fantastic momentum, not to mention performances. They become too convenient an out, and even contrived in their timing.

When Fair Game slows down, takes a breather, and lets a wide-ranging, superb cast finally go to work, it’s fantastic. Once her name is leaked in the papers and her status compromised, drama builds, not confusion. Some of those pieces from earlier come together as well, and there is an understanding of why they were important.

It’s nearly too late for Fair Game though, this a film that loses most of its audience before it can ever grab them. In the end, it’s a forced, heavy-handed parable about fighting back, doing what’s right, and establishing truth in the government. This is not subtle material, Joe presenting a speech to a college audience that would make Bill Pullman blush if he were speaking on July 4th. The political leanings of all involved are almost abrasive to the film’s central story, and bring down the material from recreation to a hint of propaganda. Such a shame since the material has the potential to resonate for generations.

Movie ★★★☆☆ 

Maybe in the future the Red One will surprise us all, presenting a movie shot with it that is nothing short of digital perfection. If Fair Game is any indicator, we’ll be waiting a while. The transfer from Summit seems adequate, the AVC encode producing no visible artifacts, ringing, halos, or any other nonsense aside from mild aliasing on a handful of shots. The transition to Blu has served it well.

Unfortunately, the source material is basically hideous, filled with nothing but inconsistencies, dim photography, and simply awful black levels. That’s consistent with anything shot with the Red, dimensionality poor as the washed out blacks completely fail almost every shot of the movie. Pumped up contrast is used for minimal effect in a few sequences, still given nothing from the blacks, which take the day off.

Color is equally bland, flesh tones a peaked pinkish hue, and environments as sterile as a hospital (except there’s no hospital). Gray is dominant everywhere, almost to the point of sapping all the life away from this one. Were there any depth to this mediocre affair, the overbearing shades would not the drastic problem that they are. You almost begin to appreciate the interlaced SD footage scattered about since it offers some type of color saturation. The style is proper for the material, representing a more muted, dramatic feel, but certainly not eye-catching.

Detail is also flaccid, and that’s even ignoring the abominable smooth, blurry, fuzzy, and soft mid-range. Close-ups are all over the place, the majority of anything decent coming within the final 30-minutes or so. There are few natural looking sequences, most overly glossy. Trying to pick up minute definition from background objects, clothes, or just about anything for that matter seems like a waste of time.

Video ★★★☆☆ 

This audio mix is an utter disaster, and makes the video almost seem like hi-def heaven. To put how simply terrible this DTS-HD track is into words, imagine if you took out the stereo channels entirely, shoved all of the sound effects into the surrounds, leaving only the dialogue to come from the front. That’s how bad it is.

Things come from behind the viewer for no reason at all, things like paper shuffling or dishes clanging in a bar so utterly overdone it’s like they’re meant to be more prominent than what it is being said. The tiniest of sounds reverberates through the soundfield with such force, a phone ringing can compete with a depiction of the Shock and Awe campaign later, and discussing that whole sequence is just asking for trouble. Objects which are clearly in front of the viewer, from falling missiles to explosions, slam into the surrounds with no audible separation between channels.

That leads into another issue, which is a total lack of directionality. If the fronts weren’t being used at all, the surrounds sort of blend into giant mass of sound. Don’t think that being a mere dialogue driven thriller means there’s not much going on either, because this merciless mixture turns it into something resembling a Michael Bay movie were it set in a static office environment.

Audio ★★☆☆☆ 

An audio commentary is the only extra, but it’s from the real Valerie and Joe Wilson. You can’t ask for much more than a true story bringing in the real participants to tell their side of the story.

Movie ★★☆☆☆