EXCLUSIVE: Doug Liman on Fair Game: 'It's a Really Great Movie'

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Movieline on Tuesday dropped by a benefit in Tribeca for Scenarios USA, a non-profit that promotes writing and filmmaking among under-served teens. A handful of the kids wind up working with professional directors (including Michael Apted, Tamara Jenkins, Griffin Dunne and others) to bring their stories to the screen. And just as dinner was getting underway, in walked Doug Liman, who sits on Scenarios' board and had collaborated on the program's first short film -- He Said, She Said -- in 1999. But just as important for him at the moment: He's preparing to send one of Cannes' most anticipated films -- the Valerie Plame thriller Fair Game -- to the festival, where it will screen in competition. Liman took a moment to talk it over with Movieline.

So help me out here: Where are we tonight?

It's a benefit for Scenarios. I've been on the board of the organization since... I think it was their first year, but I know I was involved in the first films that they made. And I co-directed one of the first films they shot for it.

What's that like for an established filmmaker? What do you pick up from it?

Well, when I was directing, my co-director was a teenager from the barrio. I got just as much -- if not more -- out of the experience than he got. Directing is a very isolating experience. You don't actually interact with other directors. You're kind of the king in a small kingdom. So to have the ability to actually be partners with somebody, and somebody who's going to come at it with different ideas... Because I make very commercial movies, and a lot of the people I end up working with also make very commercial movies, and so often we find ourselves falling into ruts. We just have our go-to solutions. You work with a 17-year-old who's never made a film before, and that guy isn't going to be falling into any ruts. His ideas are going to be totally original.

Got it. Still, shouldn't you be editing your movie right now? Is Fair Game done?

We're almost done. I was just on the phone with my producer. I've got to go back to the cutting room. It ships to Cannes next week.

How are you feeling about that? You're the only American in competition.

Excited! Really excited. It's my first time having a film in competition at a festival.

At any festival?

At any festival. Ever. In my life.

That shocks me.

I've had films at festivals, but never in competition.

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There was a distribution screening recently. What happened with that?

We got offers for distribution. My producers are dealing with that while I'm dealing with the editing. I'm worried about Cannes; they're worried about Cannes and selling the movie.

It's kind of a weird climate for this film. There was Nothing But the Truth, which was kind of mishandled. Then there was Green Zone, which audiences were very cool toward. Where will Fair Game fall in this political intrigue/spy thriller spectrum?

I think it's in the spectrum of "It's a really great movie." And a lot of other movies that have been about the war or dealt with the war have not been great movies. In fact, they've been motivated more by politics than by story, and that's been a turn-off to audiences. This is sort of the first political movie that's been made where I feel like the commitment was there from the first moment to story and character, and not to politics.

I overheard you a moment ago mentioning Naomi Watts is outstanding in this. Can you elaborate?

It's the best she's ever been. She is just extraordinary in the film. I don't think there's anybody -- I don't care how hardcore Republican they might be -- who's not going to look at the film and say, "That was an extraordinary performance. That was a once-in-a-lifetime performance."

Check back for more word about Fair Game as Movieline's coverage of the Cannes Film Festival gets underway next month.



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