Dynamic Fair Game Thrilling Fodder for Debate
Based on the books The Politics of Truth by Joseph Wilson and Fair Game by former C.I.A. undercover agent Valerie Plame, the story behind The Bourne Identity and Go director Doug Limanís latest isnít exactly unknown to the majority of potential viewers. Taking its title from the latterís memoir, the movie is a procedural narrative accounting of what led to her outing by the Bush administration and the subsequent effect it had on her family. It is a strong, brilliantly acted motion picture thatís difficult to tear oneís eyes away from, and even though where it all ends up isnít particularly surprising getting there is far more entertaining, suspenseful and thought-provoking than I ever surmised it would be beforehand.
Naomi Watts and Sean Penn in Fair Game © Summit Entertainment
The movie goes out of its way to show that Plame, superbly portrayed by Naomi Watts, was very good at her job. Respected by her peers, lauded by her superiors and excellent at finding and running intelligence assets around the globe, as an officer in the CIAís Counter-Proliferation Division sheís put in charge of the investigation into whether or not Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. After a recommendation from her bosses, her husband and former ambassador Joe (Sean Penn) is asked to go to Niger to check with his political contacts about an alleged sale of enriched Uranium. He quickly concludes that this sale did not happen, and considering the humongous scale involved to transport the mineral at the volumes suspected was also downright impossible.
Most everyone knows what happened next. The Bush administration decided to ignore his findings claiming the sale as a fact even though they know better in order to convince the world and the American people invading Iraq was the thing to do. Joe Wilson didnít appreciate this and wrote a story for The New York Times outlining his conclusions and igniting a mini-controversy. The White House responded by outing his wife to Washington, D.C. journalists and starting a smear campaign in order to minimize the columnís effectiveness and turning the publicís attention elsewhere.
For a movie like this to work the filmmakers have to tap into the same sort of vibe Alan J. Pakula was able to achieve with All the Presidentís Men or David Fincher developed with absolute precision with Zodiac. You have to be running on every single cylinder, never missing a beat and keeping the momentum going as the audienceís familiarity with the story is going to allow them to oftentimes be a step or two ahead of you.
For the most part Liman achieves this. The first half works the best, the dynamic energy running the through the picture keeping me on pins and needles. The incredulity of the C.I.A. towards what the White House is asking for came as something of a surprise, and watching them do their jobs to the best of the abilities, oftentimes talking about things in probabilities but never in absolutes, is gripping. The film goes out of its way to show that Plame knew what she was doing, was an ace at setting up operations and had the clear foresight to realize that people Ė most notably scientists Ė were the real weapons of mass destruction and getting them and their families out of Iraq should have been job one once the bombs started to fall.
Once Karl Rove (Adam LeFevre) and Scooter Libby (David Andrews) leak her name to the press, however, things take an interesting if sometimes frustrating turn. Plame goes from being a proactive heroine to a passive one, and with her personal and professional life falling around her in flames she still shows reticence to take a stand to the wrongs being done to her. Her husband rails about injustice but she steadfastly remains quiet, refusing to turn against a government that has hung her out to dry for political gain.
Some will take issue with this. We like to believe that when faced with trauma or interference from another that we would take a stand, rise up out of our shell and scream from the rooftops the horrible things being done to us. But the reality is usually quite different, and whether weíd like to admit it or not I have a feeling a great many of us would react very similarly to the way Valerie does.
There is more to it, though. She was a government operative, a spy if you will, and making noise and causing a lot of trouble for your government by talking to the media and revealing behind-the-scenes information just isnít done no matter how warranted doing so might turn out to be. There is something honorable about this, something extraordinary, Watts embodying these traits to perfection in a way I found both admirable and inspiring.
Obviously, weíll never know all of the facts, and to say Libby took the fall when others were clearly more at fault than he was is at this point a relatively conceded understatement. Iíll also say that this movie isnít exactly an evenhanded one-sided approach to the story, Liman and his writers coming from a particular point of view (one I admit to agreeing with) and do all they can to hammer it home. I mean, you arenít exactly hiding your cards when you cast someone like Sean Penn in a picture such as this, and as great as he is (and heís wonderful) he never quite disappears into the role like I felt he should have.
I have some other issues, but theyíre more or less minor. To keep the energy level up Liman has composer John Powell score the picture like it were a Jason Bourne sequel, the music thump, thump, thumping along constantly even if not every single scene calls for such handling. Additionally, much like The Young Victoria (of all things) the movie sort of comes to a sudden conclusion thatís a bit disconcerting, a part of me wanting the filmmakers to go on for another 20 or 30 minutes as it felt like there was more story aching to be told.
But I find all of these things to be minor annoyances, nothing more. The simple is that Fair Game, much like the documentary Inside Job, tells a timely story that should be seen be everyone, everywhere no matter what their political stripe. While I doubt it will change any minds, it should at least start a debate, and with this weekís elections still fresh in all our minds talking about just what kind of country we all want to live in is an important discussion in dire need of the having.
Film Rating: ÍÍÍ1/2 (out of 4)