Fair Game

Fair Game

Intriguing dramatization of the so-called "Valerie Plame Affair", in which covert CIA operative Plame (Naomi Watts) was publicly outed by enemies in the George W. Bush Administration after her husband, ex-diplomat Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), wrote an article declaring that his government-sponsored trip to Niger turned up no evidence of any sales of uranium to Iraq - even though the White House falsely claimed that this "sale" justified our invasion of Iraq.

The film takes the couple's point of view (it is based on two separate memoirs - one by Wilson and one by Plame) and fills in the details about how a routine investigative trip for Wilson became a rationale for an almost inarguably illegal war, as well as the toll the White House's petty vindictiveness took on the couple, particularly Plame, as she saw both her career and her credibility destroyed literally overnight.

Director-cinematographer Liman keeps his camera loose and his pacing tight, Penn is terrific as usual, and Watts is fine if a bit too serious as the eternally stressed-out Plame. But ironically, what affected me most after watching Fair Game was what wasn't depicted in the movie: the reality that, just a few years after these events, not only have most Americans forgotten about the many truly disturbing abuses of power within the Bush Administration, but that we generally tend to ignore these serious issues because they are too complex and disheartening. So instead we focus on meaningless sex scandals and whatever laws might take our beer and Starbucks money out of our pockets.

In a sense, we're doing exactly what, in Fair Game, members of the Bush Administration hoped the American public (and press) would do: forget the real story - which in this case was the possibility that the invasion of Iraq was based on a lie - and focus on the tabloid side of things, e.g., the attractive blonde Plame (for once, the casting of Watts doesn't "Hollywoodize" the real person: Plame's an actual babe) and her sanctimonious husband.

As for the film itself, it's engaging, but it bogs down in the third act when it shifts its focus to Plame and Wilson's marital problems, an ill-advised detour that takes the real story's key twist - when Lewis "Scooter" Libby, assistant to Vice President Cheney, took the fall for the administration's illegal outing of Plame - and shrugs it off.