November 24, 2010
Whether or not the film takes too much artistic license with the exact events as they in real life took place, and in the absence of a definitive, unbiased interpretation of events, I have to say that I personally was fairly impressed by the admittedly left-leaning politics of Doug Liman’s latest thriller Fair Game (2010). But opinions regarding the true story of Valerie Plame Wilson aside, the greatest success of the film is the way in which it so seamlessly uses formal techniques to elucidate narrative content.
One of the greatest ways to ensure an audience buys the authenticity of a film is to use documentary or stock TV footage. This technique is especially successful when the footage is woven into the thematic fabric of the film and harmoniously matched with visual graphics (exemplarily explicated at the very end of the film where Liman cuts in graphic match from Naomi Watts’ performance to “real life” footage of Valerie Plame Wilson’s testimony in court.) In the opening titles for the film we are presented with news footage of George Bush and an aural mash-up of non-diegetic music from the Gorillaz layered on top of a spate of diegetic key words that alliterate and are accumulatively onomatopoeic; “scare”, “threat”, “substance”, “security”, “terrorist attacks”, “terrorist networks”. Set less than one month after September 11 and engaging in the media frenzy that followed these events, such formal techniques allow audience awareness from the outset; this film is interested in exposing the Bush administration as hysterical and fraudulent. Furthermore, the film is clearly and explicitly aligned with an anti-Iraq occupation political point of view.
In addition to the use of such footage, the drama itself is filmed in two distinctly different styles that play off one another to great effect. When we see Valerie (Naomi Watts) and her husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) at home or in a familial/social environment the camera work is static implying peaceful, steady and stable foundations. Conversely, when we see Valerie or Joe in governmental or field agent settings the camera work is often shaky and intrusive which is consciously interrogative implying a great deal of uncertainty and erraticism. This juxtaposition is used to both frame the Wilsons as “good” people of integrity and simultaneously cast doubt over the systems of power that employ them.
Selective use of famous quotations further ads to the communicable incredulity of certain US office holders and their role in the events that led to the West’s invasion of Iraq. From Saddam’s “I would rather kill my friends in error than let my enemies live” to the Bush administration’s “The responsibility of a country is not in the hands of a few” Liman is questioning the way in which the media present high-profile conflict to the public. In lieu of this it is clear that in presenting another perspective on Valerie Plame Wilson’s case, Liman is interested in visual media’s ability to communicate and manipulate viewers. Rousing and provocative in the first instance, Fair Game is a fascinatingly self-reflexive accusal of popular discourse in its ability to skew fact and create polemic.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.