Fair Game (7/10)
by Tony Medley
Run Time 106 Minutes
OK for children.
Too bad there is not an antonym for roman á clef,
because that’s what would fit this perfectly. Instead of a story in
which actual persons, places, or events are depicted in fictional guise
using fictional names, this uses real names and real people and
fictionalizes them. As a political thriller, this is a rip-snorter. The
problem is that it is based on fact, the Valerie Plame/Joe
Wilson/Scooter Libby incident during the Bush Administration and the
run-up to and aftermath of the Iraq war. In a nutshell, Plame (Naomi
Watts) worked for the CIA. Her husband, Wilson (Sean Penn), was sent on
a fact-finding mission to Africa to determine if Iraq was trying to buy
Uranium. He concluded they weren’t. President Bush subsequently made a
speech to Congress and said that the British reported that Iraq was
trying to buy uranium in Africa. Wilson was incensed that his opinion
was ignored and wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times debunking
what Bush said. Then it was The White House’s turn to be incensed. To
discredit Wilson, it had a State Department employee, Richard Armitage,
leak to journalist Robert Novak that Wilson was Plame’s husband and that
she worked for the CIA, thereby outing a secret agent.
Thus a huge war developed between The White House
on one side, and Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson on the other. However, one
thing I never understood about Wilson’s article is that Bush’s statement
in the State of the Union address said that the British reported
that Iraq was trying to buy uranium, not that it was a fact. What Bush
said was not untrue if the British did, in fact, report that. Bush
didn’t make the statement that Iraq was buying it, just that the British
reported that they were buying it.
There is a standard disclaimer that the film,
written by Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, is “based on” the
books Fair Game by Plame and The politics of Truth by
Wilson, but that fictional characters and events have been added. This
disclaimer allows them to get away with murder and have everyone walk
away believing it as gospel. In fact, what the disclaimer says is, “Any
similarity of those fictitious characters, incidents or companies to the
name, attributes or actual background of any actual person, living or
dead, or to any actual event, or to any existing company, is entirely
coincidental and unintentional.” In other words, a lot of this is pure
fiction. And the part that is pure fiction is the part that establishes
Plame as a James Bondish secret agent. Clearly she didn’t do what’s in
this movie. But what did she do? Nobody will ever know because it’s
classified and it would be a felony for her to talk about it.
Director Doug Liman (who doubled as Director of
Photography) does a masterful job of creating and maintaining tension,
aided immeasurably by a stellar performance by Naomi Watts as Plame and
a terrific score by John Powell.
I really wanted to believe that what I was seeing
was the truth and that what Plame is shown doing here is equivalent to
what she actually did. But that requires that I trust the filmmakers.
Liman’s father, Arthur, was counsel for the Democrat-controlled Senate
in the Iran-Contra hearings, circa 1986-88, which puts him on the left.
Penn, who pals around with Venezuela’s virulently anti-American
dictatorial President Hugo Chávez, comes about his leftwing leanings
naturally as the son of Leo Penn, who is lionized by the left as one of
those blacklisted for refusing to name names before the House Unamerican
Activities Committee (HUAC).
The movie shows what it’s like for two individuals
to take on The White House; two individuals facing the vast power and
money of the federal government, clearly a daunting task. If you take
what Plame was doing as fictionalized fact, you can’t help coming out of
the movie with a Point of View. My personal feeling is that there is
probably a lot of fire behind this smoke and that Plame and Wilson might
not have been the ideological zealots painted by The White House, but
people who were just speaking the truth as they knew it. If so, they
were seriously injured by the Bush White House.
So I tried to ignore the political bias of two
leftwing filmmakers, Penn and Liman, and enjoyed the film as a good
fictional political thriller loosely based on fact with fine
performances by Watts and Penn (although Sean still can’t cry tears on
cue). But I came out of it wondering how close it really was to the
truth. Knowing how dirty politics and politicians are, it wouldn’t
surprise me if it were close to the truth.
October 27, 2010