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Fair Game follows the story of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative working undercover in the days following the World Trade Center bombings, when finding and rooting out potential new threats to the country was imperative.  A directive from the White House has the entire office scrambling to try to find some connection between Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein and African suppliers of yellowcake, a type of uranium.  Plameís husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson is asked by her bosses to go to Niger on a fact-finding mission to determine the likelihood of a deal between the Nigeriens and the Iraqi government.  When Wilson turns up nothing, itís not the news the White House wants to hear.  Wilsonís expertise is dismissed in favour of evidence that holds absolutely no credence but is what the White House needs to support the drum beat of war.  In preparation for the forthcoming conflict, Plame travels to Iraq to find and remove a consortium of scientists who, if left in their country might fall into the hands of a more feasible threat, Iran.  After George Bushís State of the Union address announces the discovery of Husseinís purchase of uranium from Africa and the deployment of troops to Iraq, Wilson questions the factuality of the discoveries in op-ed pieces in the New York Times, thus forever crossing himself off the White House Christmas card list.  Clearly that wasnít punishment enough because in short order, Plameís identity as a CIA agent is revealed in the Washington Post, thus nullifying her status instantly and pulling the plug on whatever sensitive missions were under her command.  The revelation turns the Wilson household upside down as death threats are called in to their home daily and both Joe and Valerie find themselves smeared and attacked from all sides.  Acknowledging that the leak was an act of revenge from on high fails to soften relations between Joe and Valerie, the latter feeling betrayed and ambushed by Joeís reckless action that ultimately costs Plame 20 years of her life and causes her to question her husbandís true motive in writing the anti-war article.

Doug Liman, director of groovy things like Swingers {1996}, Go {1999} and The Bourne Identity {2002}, seems to feel that because this is a true story, the camera must move around as much as possible in order to evoke a documentary feeling.  He nearly undoes his own film in opting for such distracting, awful cinematography.  Silly man, when you have a story as fascinating as Plameís, one doesnít need irritating, gimmicky camera tricks to compel people to watch.  The script is smart and solid, if slowly paced, with the first act dragging painfully at times and the lovey-doveyness of Plame and Wilsonís post-exposure relationship too neatly tied up with a big pink bow.  Where Fair Game succeeds is in showing its audiences exactly what was lost when Plameís identity was leaked.  How in the war on terror this country canít afford to lose as important a weapon as a CIA operative.  The callousness with which her status was revealed is the stuff of bad fiction, but it really happened:  The US government conspired to out its own spy for petty payback against her husbandís controversial opinion, leaving Plame and anyone she reached out to in her missions to the vagaries of fate.  In Fair Game, there is a heartbreaking subplot about Plameís interaction with an Iraqi scientist who agrees to cooperate with her, naming names of other physicists in return for safe haven to the US for himself and his loved ones before the war begins.  Unaware that sheís been exposed and removed from active CIA duty, he has faith in her even as the bombs fall all around his family home.  Naomi Watts does a fine job as Valerie Plame, smart and efficient, sinking into one fake existence after another; a good agent and a good, if absent, mom to her two young children.  Sean Penn nails Joe Wilson perfectly; the socially intolerant intellectual, not shy of his opinions and suffering no fools gladly.  Pennís Wilson is madly in love with his wife, but that affection fails to tamp down his grandstanding tendencies, which one could argue got the Wilsons into the mess they found themselves in.  After the leak, Valerie just wants the story to go away and some form of normal life to begin, while Joe, never at a loss for words or a juicy sound bite, cultivates a media circus, exposing the skullduggery of the Bush White House for all to see.  It takes some Zen intervention from Sam Shepard as Plameís father, himself a retired military officer to forge a treaty between the two warring factions, uniting them to face the real battle all around them.

Pacing problems and dreadful cinematography aside, Fair Gameís smart, well-acted true tale of corruption at its most insidious is a timely one and fittingly captures a sorry moment in American history.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Nov. 1st, 2010

 

 

 

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