FAIR GAME★★★★ out of four stars • Rating: PG-13 for some language • When/where: 7 p.m. Sat., AMC Block E 15.
The most riveting Washington thriller since "All the President's Men." Naomi Watts and Sean Penn soar as Valerie Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson, she an undercover agent whose every public statement involves deception, he a former ambassador with a blunt allegiance to the truth, however inconvenient. The couple were relentlessly hounded when her CIA status was leaked by the Bush White House in retaliation for his criticism. The focus is Wilson's battle with the administration and the media over false claims that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. But director Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity") grapples with larger truths about our divided government, and insights into a marriage strained by its partners' conflicting ideals. A triumph on all counts.
THE NATURE OF EXISTENCE
★★ 1/2 out of four stars • Rating: Unrated; suitable for all audiences • When/where: 7 p.m. Fri., AMC Block E 15. Director in attendance. Saturday through Thursday, Parkway Theater. Director present for Saturday showings.
As a child in Minnesota, Roger Nygard considered church "countdown to brunch." After Sept. 11, he got to wondering what it's all about, grabbed his camera and traveled the world asking scientists, spiritualists, brainiacs and boobs, "Why do we exist?" Stanford University physicist Leonard Susskind, one of the fathers of string theory, answers, "Sex! And chocolate!" Irvin Kershner, director of "The Empire Strikes Back," says, "Life is very difficult. Unless you're a total idiot. Then you can be happy." At one point, Nygard admits, "My brain was swimming in so much new information, I was feeling lost." After 90 minutes of scattershot quips, I felt like I was wearing spiritual beer goggles.
JACK GOES BOATING★★ out of four stars • Rating: R for language, drug use and some sexual content • Where: Edina.
The best thing about Philip Seymour Hoffman's directing debut: It stars Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film is a catalog of tired indie tropes: lower-class setting, losers in love, dialogue-heavy script, an inhibited emotional palette until the pull-out-all-stops finale. Hoffman plays lonely Jack, who begins a self-improvement regime to impress a woman (Amy Ryan) he meets on a blind date. Much love for Hoffman as a performer, but this is blah stuff.
THE SICILIAN GIRL1/2 out of four stars • Rating: Unrated; violence; in subtitled Italian • Where: Lagoon
The fact-based story of a teenager (Veronica D'Agostino) who grew up in a Mafia family but entered the witness-protection program to expose her father's killers. Watching this is like going to the dentist for a root canal, but he makes a mistake and injects the novocaine into your brain.
THE CONCERT★★ 1/2 out of four stars • Rating: PG-13 for profanity and mature themes. In subtitled Russian and French. Where: Edina.
This mistaken-identity melodrama about a Russian orchestra conductor who stages a reunion in Paris milks laughs and wrings tears.
CARRIE RICKEY, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER