WE’VE previewed the first Hollywood probe of the Plame/CIA leak case—and director Doug Liman’s views—for months, and today the big day finally arrived: Fair Game, starring Naomi Watts as Valerie Plame Wilson and Sean Penn as husband Joe, was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, as the only U.S. film in competition. So, what do the critics think?
Reuters reports that it “was well received at a press screening at the Cannes film festival on Thursday despite a handful of boos.” USA Today suggests that as the closing credits rolled talk among reporters was of possible Oscar nods for best picture and lead actor and actress. Hollywood Reporter claims it "might be one of the best spy films ever." The Times of London gives it four out of five stars and calls it a "thriller" that "delivers a knockout punch" to the Bush administration: "It will no doubt leave Washington’s right-wing talk radio jocks incandescent with rage, particularly the sleazy, bullying performance by David Andrews as Scooter Libby."
But Richard Corliss of TIME just weighed in calling the film a bit "clumsy" and hitting Penn’s too nervy performance as Joe Wilson. The unpredictable Manohla Dargis of the NYT commended its "solid" first hour before in plunged into "hooehy." Variety found it too "streamlined" and "righteous," with Penn in too "typical" a role for him. Salon has some qualms but thinks it will "play well" with liberals and get serious play at Oscar time.
The first word came via Roger Ebert in a couple of early morning tweets, one revealing that some were calling the film “anti-American” while he found it very “pro.” Later he added that it "makes a case for Bush, Cheney and Rove deliberate lies justifying the Iraq War." But remember that the recent Paul Greengrass/Matt Damon film Green Zone made a similar case, and bombed at the box office. Director Doug Liman has a new blog post today.
As we revealed some time ago, Cheney and Rove and Judy Miller are not actually depicted on the screen, although Liman compares Cheney to the shark in Jaws (deadly but largely invisible). Now we can report: It opens with the classic song “Clint Eastwood.” And much of it focuses on Plame as spy and a visit to Iraq well before we get to the Robert Novak etc. leak.
The New York Post calls it “superb” and actually hails the acting of longtime foe Sean Penn. The lefty Guardian, however, finds the film a little to “stolid” and “by the book.” But the IFC site calls it "stirring" and "ambitious and engagng cinema." Indie Wire praises it for not being "sensationalistic" but it may go too far in the other direction. Time Out is also not sold, but one wonders if more politically savvy types will lap it up. (And Sean Penn is getting heat for skipping the festival–in favor or helping out in Haiti this week.) First clip from film below: