Fair Game – 2010
Directed by Doug Liman
Starring Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Michael Kelley, Noah Emmerich, Ty Burrell, Sam Shepard, David Andrews, Adam LeFevre, Khaled Nabawy
Written by Jez and John Butterworth
“They lied. That’s the truth.”
Five words, six if you count the apostrophe, that most succinctly describe the Cheney/Bush Administration. Many egregious acts put the United States reputation, honor and place in the world on a downward slide during their time in the White House. Taking unconnected raw data and trying to formulate proof for a position that they had to begin with and never wavered from, the creatures in the Cheney / Bush Administration allowed many to suffer for their hubris. This story is about a handful of them.
Starting out showing the connection between CIA Agent Valerie Plame-Wilson (Watts) and her Ambassador husband Joe (Penn), you see her involved in the pursuit of terrorist weapons and those who would procure them. She is not necessarily the center of the CIA universe, but she is an active agent with people she depends on and those whose their lives are in her hands. Joe Wilson, described in the movie as the last American diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein, is shown to be a political animal, fully chained. He is no fan of the Iraqi dictator, andwillingly takes a trip to Niger 0n behalf of the administration to exercise his contacts to verify the validity of claims of weapon making material being purchased from Africa by Hussein. He comes back, reporting that no evidence could be found. Then, in the midst of Cheney / Bush’s claim to have procured proof for that the materials had been sought after, Wilson decides to call b.s..
At this point, the administration’s henchmen, Libby and Rove, decide to out Plame-Wilson to several sources, including Robert Novak. That this information was also leaked by Richard Armitage is immaterial, as in total, the actions compromised Plame-Wilson as an agent, and, at the very least, put at risk anyone who could ever be traced to having worked with her. The details to these facts have been muddied, of course, as it was the administration’s job to make all information anything but informative.
The essential truths to the story are here, though, and handled conscientiously. No one looks like a hero. No one seems angelic. Penn’s Wilson is a man with integrity, for sure, but he is also annoying as, well, Sean Penn. As Plame-Wilson, Watts, if anything, looks almost working class. She is direct, more than clever, and her lies are more an expectant truth than anything. There is a natural stress on the marriage, based on the fact that, while he knows what she does, but never knows entirely where she is…or if she will return. This is played quite believably and subtly by the principals. When they go to dinner with friends, they must keep quiet what they know, while putting up with the opinions of others.
Of the administration, Liman lets the fur fly. The staff is arrogant, ignorant and clever. They know how to muddy the still waters of untruth and make it seem that what they say not just possibly true, but probably true. What they don’t know how to do is make it absolutely true. They showed so much ability in the probably true department, they did not need to worry about absolution.
The direction is crisp, and it is unsympathetic. Liman is pushing facts here more than he is painting a political picture. While Wilson is on a crusade, his wife lumbers through the events, feeling their weight, and trying to push through it. Her perspective is an important one. Having portrayed Wilson as a publicity hound, the administration operatives went ahead and threw her into the mix, regardless of who was made to suffer. There is no sad musical score, and no explosions (if you don’t count Penn diatribes). It’s just a series of tensions that ratchet up, until they take their toll…almost.
If there is a failing of the film, it is that it is pretty brief on the information, post leak. We see, essentially, what we already knew. Well, what most of us already knew. My wife was curious about the film, but it was news to her, to a degree. Kind of like Plame-Wilson, she spent most of her time working during the build up to the Iraq War, and raising children. She did not have the time to listen and read about it all in her commute. In this case, the kids provided the noise. The noise the kids made, and that made by the likes of Cheney, Libby, Rove and Bush all achieved the same result. The time most discovered the truth, or at least most of it, was the time they saw the movies about it. If the movie had been made back in time to have prevented something, now that would have been worthy.
(***1/2 out of *****)