FAIR GAME. Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Ty Burrell, and Sam Shepard. Directed by Doug Liman. Rated M (Coarse language). 107 min.
This film is based on the true life events surrounding Valerie Plame Wilson, as published in her 2007 memoir, “Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House”. The film tells her story when her cover as a CIA agent was blown by Robert Novak in his syndicated column for the “Washington Post”. Her name was published in a piece he wrote on the Iraq war in July 2003. This was after her husband had exposed the duplicity of the US Government in an article he wrote for the “New York Times”, titled “What I didn’t find in Africa”, four months after the US invaded Iraq. The scandal that resulted became widely known as “Plamegate”.
Plame Wilson (Naomi Watts) worked for the CIA as an undercover officer, and was (and still is) married to Joseph Charles Wilson (Sean Penn), who was a US diplomat with expertise in African politics, sent by the US Government to investigate the claim that Iraq was purchasing, or intended to buy, uranium yellow-cake from Niger. The purchase of the uranium would demonstrate that Iraq was a nuclear threat. Joseph presented his report to Washington, saying that any Iraqi nuclear ambitions through Africa had no basis in actual fact.
Following his New York Times article, his wife’s exposure was used to discredit him and was pay-back for his public testimony about Iraq, which contradicted a statement by George Bush in his State of the Union Address, delivered six months earlier. Plame’s firing had repercussions for other CIA operations in the Middle East. Her “outing” compromised every relationship and every network she had formed as a CIA agent. The movie is essentially about what happened to Plame and her husband after her cover, leaked to Novak by the Senior Chief of Staff to the Vice President of the United States, was published in his news column.
Both Joe and Plame Wilson were leading the normal life one would expect in suburban Washington. The film shows them mingling with their neighbours, and taking their children to school. Naomi Watts plays the role of wife, mother and spy very well as she moves in an out of her multiple identities with controlled ease. Sean Penn is more impressive as husband, father and US ambassador. Both their lives are shattered when the news of Plame’s secret identity breaks.
Doug Liman, who directed “The Bourne Identity” packs the film with lots of action and explosive sequences, that rely mostly on Plame’s spy activities, and the movie draws its provocative title through the fact that the US government judged Valerie Plame Wilson as “Fair Game” in the politics of selling its version of Iraq as a nuclear threat. As a result of exposure by the media, the relationship between Joe and his wife begins to fracture, and there are catastrophic consequences for the people left behind when the US terminated Plame as its operative.
To some extent, the movie aims for spy-intrigue, and also to be a documentary on what really happened to two people, who got caught in the machinations of US politics. Archival footage showing George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and the real Plame Wilson, is included, but the film focuses too much on thriller-type action and intrigue, and pulls back from intelligent debate about probable truths. The immorality of the US government’s stance is obvious, but it is arguable that Plame was complicit in suggesting her husband’s name to the US authorities as the one who would be the best person to send to Africa on assignment.
This is a movie about power politics, and the tensions of life for two people, who became intimately involved in the complexities of major political events. Part-thriller and part-documentary, the film struggles a little to find its balance, but the acting is good, the direction is taut, and its messages are sobering. The film is about disturbing events, and it seriously entertains.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Out November 25, 2010.