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Movie Review: ‘Fair Game’

November 19, 2010

In 2003, Valerie Plame looked the part of any successful working mother.  She ran a household, reared a set of twins, and had a typical office job, or so it would seem.

In reality, she was a covert CIA operative who was in charge of various operations overseas. After years of cultivating contacts and relationships, her entire life was exposed when Washington Post scribe Robert Novak outed her as a CIA operative in an article in the publication.

The incident was thought to be a retaliatory action against her family after her husband, ex-diplomat Joe Wilson,  wrote a series of scathing op-ed pieces indicting the Bush administration’s assertion that Iraq had acquired uranium from Niger. Wilson maintained that the administration was manipulating the evidence to justify the Iraq invasion.

Ultimately, White House aide Scooter Libby was revealed as the source for Novak’s piece. He was tried and found guilty of obstruction of justice, making false statements, and perjury.  His sentence was commuted by George Bush in 2007.

Fair Game brings to life a fictionalized account of the story behind the story.  If you are a newshound, you already know the details of the case, but what the movie does a great job of is illuminating the far reaching consequences of the administration’s decision to out her.

It wasn’t just Plame and her family who suffered, the administration has the blood of foreigners on their hands as well.  Many of Plame’s contacts suffered or died as a direct result of her being outed.  That makes the whole ugly mess more difficult to swallow.

Although I found the upheaval of her life and marriage horrifying as well, it is something we see more and more every day with anyone running for an office, or even celebrities for that matter.  Public scrutiny of private lives has become a media pass time, unfortunately. It is hardly novel to Plame and her husband.

There are marriages broken on a daily basis because we allow anyone to be “fair game” and analyzed under a microscope.  It’s troubling, no matter who the recipient of the attention might be. However, it is unsettling to see a woman who risked life and limb to serve her country so quickly betrayed by it.

Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith)  starts the opening credits with the Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood” playing in the background.  The jaunty, carefree song serves as a nice contrast to the serious tone the rest of the movie will take.

Naomi Watts slides into the role of Plame with ease.  She is a bit more subdued and quiet than you expect a federal agent to be, but perhaps she has learned restraint after years and years in the field.

Sean Penn plays her blowhard husband Joe Wilson, and I thought he was a poor choice for the role. His public persona completely overshadows the character of Joe Wilson. You never see Wilson, you always see Penn, lecturing, declaring that there are no weapons in Iraq because he says so! I’ve no doubt that Penn was giddy when he received this script.

He probably tucked it into bed with him every night and cuddled with it.  It is absolutely the perfect role for him, because it is an extension of  him, and that’s why I didn’t like him in the role.  I finally came to the conclusion while watching this movie that I just don’t enjoy watching Penn act anymore.  I can’t help but wonder what the role would have been like had someone else played it with more subtlety.

Joe Wilson (as played by Sean Penn) is an elitist asshole who can’t tolerate being in the company of anyone who dares not to think like him.  I wonder how much input Penn had in regards to his role, because he wears a pair of scholarly glasses perched precariously on the end of his nose, and he literally looks down his nose at us the whole time.  Come on!

His performance made the whole film feel like one big lecture, and it didn’t need to be that way.  The story is compelling.  Penn actually undermines it with his performance. He’s preaching to the choir, when he should be recruiting more people from the general congregation.

A few weeks ago I reviewed The Tillman Story, another movie about a sensitive political topic, but it handled the story  in a much more objective manner. Admittedly, it is a documentary, but the filmmakers  present the facts and let you draw your conclusions.

I wish that this movie would have taken a similar approach.  Instead, we see any character who might be remotely associated with the right as cartoonish and stupid.  It cheapens the story and isn’t necessary. We already know who the bad guys are here, so do Wilson’s dinner companions really have to be such caricatures?

I found the movie to be well acted and directed, and I think Plame’s story is an important one that deserves to be told, but the sanctimonious attitude really turned me off.  Consequently, I found this to be a good movie that could have been great.

Rating 3.5/5  Fair Game is rated PG-13.  Directed by Doug Liman, starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn.


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