x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Abu Dhabi-backed movie Oscar bound?

With top names such as Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Doug Limon headlining Fair Game, Oscar talk is in the air.

A political thriller about the outing of the former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts will be the next product of Imagenation Abu Dhabi and Participant Media's $250 million (Dh90m) film fund. Titled Fair Game after Plame Wilson's 2007 memoir - which, in turn, took its name from the phrase Karl Rove, George W Bush's chief of staff, used to describe the blowing of her cover to the press - the movie is directed by Doug Liman, who is perhaps best known for The Bourne Identity and Mr and Mrs Smith, and co-produced by River Road Entertainment.

"It's a political movie, but Doug Liman has done amazing action thrillers in the past, with The Bourne Identity and Jumper," said Stefan Brunner, the chief operation officer of Imagenation Abu Dhabi. "He didn't come on this film to make another slow political thriller like, say, Michael Clayton. He wanted to make it more of an action thriller." The film recently wrapped principal photography and is scheduled for release in the US late this year or early next. When it is released will depend in part on its chances as a contender for the Academy Awards.

"We will look at the final film, and if we feel that there is Oscar potential, then definitely the release will be structured around that," Brunner said. "It's a story that has the potential for Academy Awards, especially with the two actors that we have attached." Watts was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in 2004 for her role in 21 Grams, in which she starred with Penn. Penn took home his second statue for Best Actor this year for his performance in Milk, following his win for 2004's Mystic River.

Last month, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Penn had dropped out of MGM's The Three Stooges and Universal and Imagine's crime thriller Cartel in order to take a break from his Hollywood career and spend more time with his family. Fair Game was the last film he finished before the break, which sources in the industry said could last up to a year. "It's obviously unfortunate for the other two movies, but it's good that he finished ours," Brunner said.

Penn will play Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Plame Wilson's husband, who, according to her memoir, earned the ire of the Bush administration when he penned an op-ed column in The New York Times, accusing the administration of misrepresenting intelligence and exaggerating "the Iraqi threat" in the conclusion of its investigation into whether the country's regime had purchased or attempted to purchase uranium prior to the US invasion.

Plame Wilson and her husband allege that the administration retaliated by revealing her identity as an undercover CIA agent, through leaks to reporters by Karl Rove, the Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and other members of the US government. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former vice president Dick Cheney's chief of staff, was convicted of lying to a federal grand jury about his involvement in outing Plame Wilson.

Edward Borgerding, the chief executive of Imagenation Abu Dhabi, said the core elements of the story are universal. "It's really about politicians abusing their power. I think that's a story that people around the world can always relate to," he said. The film marks the fifth project to be announced by Imagenation Abu Dhabi, the $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) film fund created as a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC) last autumn. ADMC owns and publishes The National.

The first project, a Robert Rodriguez film called Shorts, made in partnership with Warner Bros, will be released in August. The second, The Way Back, made in partnership with National Geographic, is due for release this autumn. The third and fourth, The Crazies, a biological horror film, and Furry Vengeance, an environmental comedy, are also being produced in partnership with Participant Media.