I just saw perhaps my favorite movie so far this year, the political thriller “FAIR GAME”, based on memoirs by Valerie Plame (My Life as a Spy) and her husband, Joe Wilson (The Politics of Truth). I was glued to my television set when the events were actually happening in 2004 because of the nakedness and brutality of leaking a spy’s identity. This wasn’t a John Le Carre fictional thriller. The subject matter in this reenactment of events is inherently more dramatic and spellbinding! Go—no run—to see it!
FAIR GAME focuses on what unfairly happened to this couple, rather than preaching about the Bush Administration of 2003-2004. Plame‘s cover as a spy was blown in 2003 by the White House. In a Washington Post op-ed piece, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” former UN ambassador Joe Wilson (beautifully nuanced by Sean Penn) writes that the Bush administration distorted information about nuclear weapons to justify war against Iraq. In retaliation for that bold offense, the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame (superbly played by Naomi Watts) is leaked to the press. Karl Rove reportedly told Chris Mathews that Valerie Plame was “fair game.” Hence, the title.
A suspense-filled, sometimes terrifying glimpse into the bowels of political power, FAIR GAME is riveting. Both Plame and Wilson are relatively apolitical. Valerie especially is portrayed as an unwilling, seemingly bewildered, but loyal civil servant who finds herself betrayed by her beloved CIA. Her career is destroyed, her marriage strained to its limits, and her life and those she loves are threatened when her identity is exposed. Yet still she is not as outraged as her husband becomes. We see a few chilling clips of actual footage of Bush and Cheney giving speeches which underscore the deception they are about to play.
The acting by Watts and Penn is so sharp that, when Valerie Plame was interviewed, she said that her friends told her Naomi Watts nailed her personality and character. I guarantee Naomi Watts will be up for an Academy Award! And Director Doug Liman (“Bourne Identity”, “Mrs. And Mrs. Smith”) directs fast-paced and furious, always reminding us of the power in government, illegal abuse of that power, misinformation, manipulation, and character assassination. Watching this movie is unbalancing and disturbing: the personal drama overshadowed by the arrogance and brutality of absolute power.