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4 Stars Movies

When happens when you tell the Bush Administration what they don’t want to hear: Fair Game

Doug Liman’s Fair Game is an important movie. The legacy of the Bush Administration’s War on Terror comprises many grand injustices: civilian casualties, torture, increased resentment worldwide, eroded civil liberties, et al. In other words, lots of raw material for screenplays.

Most treatments in movies so far have been fictional explorations of the cost upon American soldiers and their families (including The Messenger and In the Valley of Elah). Fair Game belongs to a different genre: the dramatization of actual figures in the midst of specific events. Fair Game is structured as a more conventional biopic than more rigorous recreations like The Road to Guantanamo, United 93, and Zero Dark Thirty.

Fair Game dramatizes the public scapegoating of CIA officer Valerie Plame and former Ambassador to Africa Joe Wilson simply because their jobs tasked them with giving answers to difficult questions, questions that they didn’t realize had already been given scripted answers by the Bush Administration. Plame and Wilson’s intelligence conflicted with the preconceived fictional narrative that Iraq was pursing a nuclear weapons program. Plame and Wilson were both firmly ensconced within the system, and chewed up by it when they tried to resist their exploitation.

One possible flaw with Fair Game is that it strives to position Plame and Wilson as the protagonists of a traditional two-hour biopic narrative. They are burdened with traditional character motivations, such as to clear their names, save their marriage, and expose villainy. The facts of history don’t really make for a conventionally satisfying climax to a thriller plot. When Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff Scooter Libby was convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice, it was through no direct action of the fictionalized Plame and Wilson.

Fair Game rightly highlights Plame and Wilson’s heroism in exposing the administration’s lies, but the demands of a conventional biopic to present its protagonists as having vindicated themselves doesn’t really fit in this particular case.

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2 Stars Movies

Circumnavigating The Guggenheim in Tom Twyker’s The International

The International is a disappointment coming from Tom Tykwer, director of the kinetic classic Run Lola Run, the mystical The Princess & The Warrior, and the lunatic, perverse Perfume. The International is by far his most conventional in subject matter, and lacking his energy and spirit. It especially suffers in comparison to its closest contemporary rivals in the globe-trotting action/suspense field, Jason Bourne and James Bond.

Eric Singer’s original screenplay unravels the sort of paranoid conspiracy theory that only exists in fiction, but in fact is based on an actual scandal involving the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which collapsed in 1991. But the fictionalized story makes use of ridiculous contrivances that reduce a massive international investigation down to a two-handed operation involving disgraced Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and Manhattan District Attorney (and MILF) Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts).

Clive Owen and Naomi Watts in The International
For the love of God, will somebody please tell me where Tykwer hid the camera?!

Speaking of, The International is a true waste of Watts’ talent (watch Mulholland Drive and Funny Games for a primer). A potentially shocking moment comes when her character is hit by a car. Not to sound bloodthirsty, but it might have been very interesting for her character to make an untimely exit from the movie, a la Julianne Moore in Children of Men) and Janet Leigh in Psycho. But she escapes with just an arm brace, with as little impact on the plot as on her body.

Clive Owen in The International
Circumnavigating The Guggenheim

The International’s best purpose is perhaps as porn for those with an architectural fetish. Much has been made of the production’s recreation of New York’s Guggenheim Museum interior on a European soundstage. But the extended firefight sequence is disappointing and clumsy. Michael Mann is often credited for being the master of such sequences, and for good reason. He utilizes his total command of space in Heat’s street shootout and Collateral’s nightclub battle. You never forget where all the characters are in relation to each other and the surrounding architecture. Likewise Paul Greengrass’ work in The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum. But The International’s grand shootout is a senseless jumble, and even the total number of assailants seems to wildly fluctuate. First there are two… no, four… no, eight! And the last two are right above you… no, wait, they’re loitering on the ground floor. A mess.

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