Set during the mayhem following 9/11, Fair Game details how the Bush Administration determined Iraq’s possession of WMDs. The film is a relentless attack on the Bush regime based on the story of Valerie Plame (Watts), a CIA agent who worked at the time to investigate the alleged Iraq nuclear program. Her investigation led her to a different conclusion than the US government’s assertive claims that justified the war.

The film starts off in October 2001. Joe (Penn), a former politician and his seemingly normal wife Valerie are having dinner with their friends. The mood is chipper despite the recent events, but when one of the guests makes an off-hand comment about his fear of turban-wearing flight passengers, Joe confronts his bigotry and gives him a piece of his mind. That’s Joe in a nutshell, an uncompressing liberal who doesn’t know how to hold back.

Valerie is secretly leading her own operations scattered all over the world, and when intelligence reports surface about a recent uranium deal between Iraq and an African country, she asks Joe to follow its trail in Africa. Joe concludes that such a deal couldn’t have happened, but his report gets marginalised. So when President Bush makes a speech about Iraqi WMDs and America goes to war to find none, Joe writes an opinion piece attacking the regime and causing a public uproar. The White House fights back and leaks information to the press, outing Valerie as a CIA agent, jeopardising her life and her operatives; and as things move on, her marriage.

Fair Game could have very well turned into a dry political drama but Liman’s lively direction stays attuned to the characters’ layered emotions and brings an engaging depth to the film to counter the material’s heavy political nature.

The film features Egyptian actor Khaled El Nabawy in a small but integral role as an Iraqi nuclear scientist that Valerie promises asylum to; but he is ultimately forgotten in the aftermath of the scandal. El Nabawy gives a convincing performance as an Iraqi all the way down to his authentic accent.

What’s most impressive about Fair Game is the powerful performances by both Watts and Penn. Penn plays the part of the self-righteous liberal with fierce commitment, yet he also exudes a gentle vulnerability that helps make the character endearing. Watts pulls off the seemingly impossible feat of playing a character that is stone-cold and collected, yet still filled with compassion and love.

Fair Game is as entertaining as a political drama can get. However, it’s still a film that takes place mostly in CIA operation rooms and deals with the footnotes of the Iraqi war. There aren’t any attempts to marry the drama with any gunshots or car chases to make it more conventional. Approach it as thriller or a war film and you’ll be disappointed. Approach it as a well-dramatised documentation of the Iraqi war and you will be pleasantly rewarded.