I’m standing with photographers in the nearly-packed Salle de Conference with the Fair Game press encounter about to happen, but I have time to say this: Fair Game is a stirring, suspenseful and immensely satisfying adult drama, brilliantly directed and written and acted, especially in the latter case by Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.

I’ve been hoping to like it all along, but the complexity and intelligence brought to bear upon the story of Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame vs. the Bush administration — a tale of courage, cowardice, betrayal and bureaucratic denial all wrapped up into one — still came as a surprise.

Everyone who’s been taking shots at me for seeming too interested in or optimistic about Fair Game will now have to grovel and eat crow. I’m expecting reader posts to that effect. You know who you are.

I really and truly wasn’t expecting it to be quite this deft and assured. It seems to me like a revival of the spirit of the paranoid Alan Pukula of the ’70s with governmental-spook flavorings that harken back to Costa-Gavras and John LeCarre (or, more particularly, the British TV adaptation of Smiley’s People).

This is Doug Liman‘s best film by far, a Best Picture nomination waiting to happen, and a possible Palme d’Or. Really.

I asked Liman at the press conference about cynical expectations I’ve heard and read that delivering a crisp and complex political-emotional drama on the level of Pakula or Costa-Gavras was perhaps beyond the reach of the guy who directed Mr. and Mrs. Smith and especially Jumper. Liman recognized there was reason for people to think this given past career “mistakes,” but said “this is the kind of film I’ve always wanted to make.” Obviously proud and satisfied, and good for that.

Cheers also to co-screenwriters Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth, who’ve managed to weave together a mountain of facts, scenes, reportings, emotional moments, anecdotes, milieus and atmospheres into a wonderfully rich and complex whole that has a theme and a point.

Few things in life make me happier or deliver a better all-is-right-with-the-world feeling than grade-A films which expose right-wing scumbaggery with just the right amounts of care, precision and restraint. In this sense seeing Fair Game has been an especially delightful way to end my Cannes 2010 experience.