Fair Game – Review


Between two perspectives there’s the truth. This isn’t it.

One of Aristotle’s biggest postulations into ancient Greek philosophy is that between extreme and deficiency lays the mean. Between recklessness and cowardice is courage, for example, and Aristotle believed that “proper excellence” was what made things what they ought to be. In cinema, there are always two perspectives on a particular subject and usually between them lies the truth. The Plame affair gives us a good example of this. CIA agent Valerie Plame had her identity revealed in a Washington Post column by Bob Novak, has two extremes. Ideally in a film dealing with recent history you’d hope for an attempt at accuracy, even if a director has an ideological axe to grind in the situation. Unfortunately for Fair Game it becomes much more comical to prop up the rampantly one-sided view of the situation that follows.

Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) have a typical American marriage on the outside. He runs his own business and she’s a higher up in a venture capital firm, with a beautiful home and two children. They have friends they go to dinner with and discuss politics, amongst other things, but the two have a secret. Valerie is really a member of the CIA’s counterintelligence team tasked with weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Charged with getting intelligence on Iraq’s weapons programs in the run up to the second war in Iraq, Plame recommended her husband to verify charges that Niger had sold yellow cake uranium to Iraq to verify British intelligence on the subject. Wilson reported the opposite and then a funny thing happened: Wilson penned an article in the New York Times decrying President Bush’s statements to the contrary and detailed his mission. Sometime thereafter Plame’s vocation as a CIA operative came to light in a column by Bob Novak of the Washington Post, a violation of federal law against the revealing of the names of CIA operatives. A political firestorm followed, leading to the conviction of Vice President Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby on charges of making false statements to federal investigators and eventual commutation of the sentence by President Bush.

Fair Game follows that firestorm and the lives of Wilson and Plame, up through her testimony in front of a Congressional committee on the matter. And while the film has all the requisite parts of a good thriller, it fails because it has an ideology that must be followed as opposed to trying to resemble something closer to the truth of the situation. And it starts with how Plame andWilson, despite fine performances from Watts and Penn. It’s a shame, almost, that a pair of good performances that probably will end up being worthy of Oscar nominations come from a film that is as one-sided as this film is.

They both are almost angels in how they’re setup as characters. Plame is Jason Bourne with pumps and a push up bra, globe-trotting in service to her country. She’s smarter than anyone in the room when it comes to intelligence and has a way of making everyone do what she wants. Wilson is a fiery man who’s looked the devil in the eye and didn’t flinch, a former Ambassador who has experienced world politics first hand and knows the truth simple folk don’t with the ability to have the best line in the best occasion readily available. They’re a glorious couple and no one ever gets the upper hand on these two unless by nefarious means. Everyone who opposes them is evil and with an axe to grind against them, clearly up to no good and willing to do anything to discredit those in their way.

The amusing thing is that the facts behind Plame’s outing only end up coming out in the film right before the film’s final credits, quickly on screen and off. Considering how much time is spent with establishing the gravity of the situation it’s a bit disheartening that the nuts and bolts of the matter are left off. It’s one thing to be one-sided about a story like this, and it’s not that surprising considering the film is based on her book, but it’s another to take history and distort it so much to fit neatly into a narrative. There are lots of myths about the situation that the film treats as fact that a minimal amount of research could have corrected, turning the film into a puff piece as opposed to a critical examination of a major event in the covert intelligence community from the viewpoint of someone who was wronged.

Fair Game may be a film that gets awards heaped on it but it won’t be for the right reasons; it’ll be for what it represents as opposed to what it is, which is not a good film at all.

Director: Doug Liman
Notable Cast: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Ty Burrell, Sam Shephard, Bruce McGill, Noah Emmerich
Writer(s): Jez Butterworth and John Butterworth based off the novel “Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House” by Valerie Plame-Wilson

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