FAIR GAME (DVD; Summit Entertainment) - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 4 Old 06-08-13, 03:44 PM Thread Starter
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FAIR GAME (DVD; Summit Entertainment)

Releasing/Participating Studio(s): Summit Entertainment
Disc/Transfer Information: Region 1; Anamorphic Widescreen 2.39:1
Rating: PG-13
Tested Audio Track: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Director: Doug Liman
Starring Cast: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Sonya Davison, Vanessa Chong, Anand Tiwari, Stephanie Chai, Ty Burrell, Jessica Hecht



Based on a true scandal that took place in the post-September 11 era and directed by The Bourne Identity’s Doug Liman, Fair Game takes the meat and potatoes of its story from two books, one written by the main character of the film Valerie Plame Wilson entitled Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House and the other written by her real-life husband Joseph Wilson entitled The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies That Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity: A Diplomat’s Memoir. In Liman’s film variant, these two characters are portrayed by Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, respectively, but what got me more than anything when watching Fair Game was the fact that I simply cannot believe in this day and age of “big brother is watching” paranoia and related propaganda the media likes to continuously obsess about, the U.S. government would allow something like this to even be made…I mean, not that this was the first film to ever expose “dirty secrets” the government operates by and hides in their closet full of hypocritical skeletons, but Fair Game really takes you inside the makings of cutthroat politics to the point that it exposes an unfortunate truth: to cover their own backsides, our own elected officials would sell out a member of their own that has shed blood, sweat, tears and body parts to go on covert missions around the world, sacrificing everything and everyone in their personal lives and getting nothing back for it. Something like Fair Game has convinced me I NEVER want to work for a government of any kind, in any capacity for any wage – especially on a CIA covert operative level. Risk your life and come home to be defecated on, have your life and family threatened and receive absolutely no recognition for doing so…and then be CONDEMNED and insulted by the very public you’re trying to DEFEND and risk your life for? No thanks.

Thus, let us take a look at the events surrounding the pseudo-political potboiler Fair Game – it was the post-9/11 world, when the U.S. was running spies all over the Middle East desperately searching for the people responsible for the horrendous attacks on Washington and New York. What many people don’t know is that Osama Bin Laden – who was really more of a “decoy” or even “figurehead” in the Al Qaeda organization much like “The Mandarin” was in the latest Iron Man flop – wasn’t the mastermind behind the attacks of that fateful day. He brought his money, resources and passion for anti-American and Judaic peoples to the table to fund these operations, and he did in fact make speeches threatening the lives of all Americans and warning that they will never be safe anywhere, anytime – but he wasn’t actually the sheer master plotter behind all this. The events of that now infamous day eventually evolved to the point that Bush and his cabinet began looking for Saddam Hussein’s so-called “yellow cake” that came from Niger and was supposedly going to be used to make “weapons of mass destruction.” You all know the story. It was studied in depth in Oliver Stone’s quasi-biopic W. While much of this detail is hazy, what ended up – again supposedly depending on which source you rely on – happening is it was somehow decided Hussein wasn’t in fact in possession of such materials in which to launch a chemical or even nuclear weapon…and this is around the time the Fair Game scandal came to the forefront.

The lovely Naomi Watts portrays the woman who was knee-deep in this mess, CIA operative “Valerie Plame,” who is shown darting around the world running spies, making covert “friends” and all the while balancing a life back in D.C. with her kids and husband (portrayed excellently here by Sean Penn). Joseph Wilson (Penn) was an ex-ambassador who now is attempting to get a mining import/export business of some kind off the ground, until he’s suddenly thrust into the middle of what becomes one of the biggest scandals of the time. He’s called in by his wife’s bosses based on his experience and knowledge on chemicals, elements and powders and sent to Niger – for no pay as a “favor” to his government – to identify exactly what is being mined there and if it’s being shipped to “terrorists” such as Hussein for weapon manufacturing. But the strain of Valerie’s job is putting stress on the marriage, as Joe feels he doesn’t even see here anymore, nor even knows what she does, where she goes or what she’s up to – however, you have to think anyone married to someone who works covertly in the CIA, FBI or even at Nevada’s Area 51 would know they’re not supposed to be sharing any of the information they’re exposed to daily, as stressful as that is on a relationship. Still, Joe is beginning to resent Valerie for it, and once he’s back in the States after his trip for the CIA, things get even more complex when he suddenly gets the urge to submit a newspaper article criticizing and condemning the Bush administration for their war in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Valerie is still running spies and leading two different lives, finally culminating with her reaching out to a Middle Eastern woman working as a doctor in a Cleveland hospital and who has a brother on the other side of the world, neck deep in the war the U.S. has begun. An exchange is made in which – in classic CIA style – the woman is asked to find out vital information about terrorist whereabouts and weapons from her brother, and in return the U.S. will grant her protection, safety and a trip to see him and possibly bring him to the U.S. where he’ll have a job, a free life yadda yadda yadda…sounds too good to be true, right? It always is.

Well, because of the newspaper article Joe Wilson had printed, a downward spiral of bad events takes place, the most vital of which is the exposure of Valerie’s real name and occupation to the public at large, supposedly due to someone in the government that leaked this information for revenge over her husband criticizing the Bush cabinet’s policies in Iraq. This all gets to be a bit thick and long in the proverbial political/C-SPAN tooth, and I can’t recall much of any of this being on the news during the time period the film suggests it’s taking place in – circa 2003 – but I find it difficult to accept that a lowly newspaper article (and it’s never explained just how Joe Wilson gets this article into a renowned publication let alone gets it exposed to very high-ups in the Bush cabinet; I suppose, as my wife suggested, you have to assume because he was an ex-ambassador, he can pull some strings) set off such a riveting chain of events like this. Like what, you ask? Well, once word gets out that “Valerie Plame” is actually “Valerie Wilson,” wife of Joe Wilson who wrote the article, all hell breaks loose in Washington and the media, immediately creating articles and editorials exposing her as a secretive CIA agent, the methods she was using to extract spies and other covert stuff…but here’s what I ask: Honestly, who cares? Doesn’t the world already know and accept that there are spies running around the world, doing covert things to obtain information for their country’s government? Hasn’t anyone ever seen any of the James Bond films? I mean, really – why did the entire world get their panties into a bunch over this one exposed CIA operative? So a CIA operative was exposed…but they EXIST, don’t they? Does our government really believe countries of the world don’t know we have spies and CIA operatives out there?

If you can move past this plot irregularity – of course, this wasn’t just made up; it’s based on events that did happen albeit probably very differently – we get some solid performances from the whole cast here, notably Penn who plays his Joe Wilson with a ferocity and passion I haven’t seen since his role in Casualties of War. Valerie and Joe’s lives begin to come apart, with media besieging upon their home, threatening phone calls constantly coming in and, worse, Valerie learning from her CIA superiors that she has been taken off the case because of the scandal, leading to her promised spies out in the field – the Middle Eastern doctor from Cleveland just one of them – having no recourse for help or way back to where they were from. Basically, Watts’ Valerie Plame character is forced to inform them (notably the doctor, who ends up coming to her house to blame her for her exile problems, rightfully so) that the U.S. cannot help them or any assisting family members any longer, and that they have been pretty much lied to. It’s awful.

Further, Joe begins going on talk shows and media junkets to clear his wife’s name in all of this – against her desperate wishes – as he progressively grows an enraged passion for getting back at the government that ratted them out and lied about everything happening in the Middle East at this point in time; much of this gets really thick, as I said, in the politics department making it difficult to follow…but Liman spins a political thriller web here that fuses The Bourne Identity with Body of Lies making for a taut, somewhat kinetic piece. As Joe does his media rounds, he also attempts to continue growing his business he was trying to launch amidst all this chaos, but even this is thwarted by the media when, during a sit-down lunch with prospective clients from overseas, he is verbally attacked by a rogue female reporter that will stop at nothing to ruin his name, reputation and chance at landing these clients he’s with. Again, Penn plays Wilson here with a feverish ferocity that really makes him one of the most versatile actors to ever come out of Hollywood in my opinion; he goes after the reporter verbally with an animal-like rage that really makes us feel what he’s feeling at that moment, as well as when he comes home and has it out with Valerie who can’t understand why he’s not letting all this go.

What’s suggested that happens towards the end is that certain government officials wind up taking the blame for the leaking of Valerie’s name, information and status – plus other mess-ups in the Middle East during this time – while some are involuntarily arrested for meddling crimes; of course, now we know the real Valerie Plame went on to write a book about this mess (and she does a pre-film intro on the DVD, explaining why we all need to “stand up against the wrongs of our government” before the film starts in a kind of cheap publicity stunt) as did her husband Joe, and it’s hinted at during a near-end sequence of the film that Joe did lectures talking about why he was so passionate about standing up for his wife and clearing her name…and setting the record straight about this government. As I stated earlier, this seems like something our nearing-Communism government would have black listed before it even came out in theaters, and, perhaps what’s worse, the film ends up feeling like a mass billboard for standing up against government wrongdoings instead of a study in a true event…but it was an entertaining politics-esque drama piece, I suppose.


For standard DVD, Fair Game as released by Summit Entertainment looked fantastically clean, exhibiting near-Blu-ray like qualities and sharpness elements. Upscaling to 1080p via my OPPO BDP-83 yielded outstanding results, and it’s releases like this that make someone wonder if high definition is necessary in ALL cases. Little no compression noise, a clean overall look, realistically though richly saturated colors and solid shadow detail were all highlights of this 2.39:1 anamorphic transfer; I didn’t detect any “pixilation blocking” or pulsating as is so common during upconversion of dark sequences on DVDs, though there were some outdoor/brightly-lit sequences that exhibited copious, overblown contrast elements leading to “blown out” whites and such…this was evident in some desert sequences in which the blazing hot sun captured on film rendered the scenes with a blown out contrast leading to some white detail crush.

Some brief moments of close-ups in facial shots also exhibited a touch of oversaturation in color tones – instead of a healthy, slightly pink-ish tinge, some faces exhibited a more sunburned/orange-y tone but which was not too off-putting in the least. This was definitely a satisfying DVD transfer, though, and a title I would not have any issue owning on DVD if it were a “must buy.”


A fairly average affair, Fair Game’s accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on the Region 1 DVD in English got the job done, but really strutted its high-heeled stuff in the action parts of the film – rockets, bullets, explosions and ambient support were eerily realistic on this track, making even my wife take notice at one point and say ”Hey…those rockets sounded really good in the surround speakers…” Women, right?

I noted that the dialogue stem on this Dolby Digital track possessed a somewhat “nasally,” stuffy characteristic that was offputting during certain loud sequences – I don’t run my receiver with any Audyssey processing, so what I was hearing was the track the way the AVR was delivering it as au natural as possible. At high volumes, at which we were watching this film, dialogue when called upon to deliver aggressive lines such as when Penn is shouting actually became a bit crackly around the edges and even harsh at points – I chalked this up at first to perhaps my master volume being TOO loud, but upon further investigation discovered it wasn’t THAT loud…at any rate, the dialogue quality in and of itself was of somewhat low quality in how it was delivered in this Dolby Digital encode. Congested, stuffy, nasally…however you wish to label it, the center channel information was the more disappointing elements of the track.

But, as I mentioned, when the action heats up so does Fair Game’s 5.1 sound mix, throwing bombs, explosions, bullets and a wicked sense of atmosphere and space into the support channels from behind – one sequence in particular that caught my attention was when the brother of the Middle Eastern doctor character is attempting to get through bumper to bumper traffic on a dirt road in either Cairo or Iraq during the U.S. war there, and, with his son crying in the car, we can make out distinct audio cues of Marines yelling, machine gun fire going off, bombs exploding and an overwhelming sense of forbearing doom all coming from various points in the soundfield – not just in the surround channels. Very impressive, especially for lossy audio.


I recommend a rental here if you haven’t seen this. You can definitely feel Liman’s Bourne influence all over this film, so if you enjoyed that franchise with Matt Damon, you will probably dig the director’s work on this one. The scandal itself on which it is based is still a curious one; I don’t see what the hubbub surrounding an “exposed” CIA agent was about nor why so many people wanted this couple dead for the things they were doing or saying – but apparently this had something more to do with the fact that Joe Wilson’s (and perhaps Valerie’s as well) analysis regarding what Saddam Hussein had weapons wise or what his opinions were of that situation were completely off the mark and that maybe this is what lead to the media and public’s sheer hatred of them. This notion was lost on me.

I will be posting up my review of Source Code on Blu-ray next!

Last edited by Osage_Winter; 06-08-13 at 04:00 PM.
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post #2 of 4 Old 06-08-13, 04:07 PM Thread Starter
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Re: FAIR GAME (DVD; Summit Entertainment)

Some nips and tweaks made to review; thanks.
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post #3 of 4 Old 06-08-13, 05:05 PM
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Re: FAIR GAME (DVD; Summit Entertainment)

Thanks for the review. I remember the Valerie Plame in the news long time ago.. I didn't realize it was made into a movie. Goes to show you that politics always wins out regardless of the consequences. I do like Bourne Identity director Doug Liman. I will have to put this on my watch list.
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post #4 of 4 Old 06-08-13, 05:40 PM Thread Starter
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Re: FAIR GAME (DVD; Summit Entertainment)

tripplej wrote: View Post
Thanks for the review. I remember the Valerie Plame in the news long time ago.. I didn't realize it was made into a movie. Goes to show you that politics always wins out regardless of the consequences. I do like Bourne Identity director Doug Liman. I will have to put this on my watch list.
As always, thanks for reading and replying, JJJ -- that's interesting that you recall Plame's name in the news during this time; I, for one, was bombarded with so much media coverage and hype about the Iraq and cave strikes trying to find Bin Laden that this may have been overshadowed by my exposure to this other material...

Indeed, if you see it let me know what you thought...

Thanks again for reading!
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