Fair Game


Review by Willard Manus

Man vs. power is the theme of FAIR GAME, the courageous and hard-hitting political drama directed by Doug Liman and starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. More specifically, it's Valerie Plame and her husband Joe Wilson vs. the White House, the CIA and the right-wing media.

Based on books written by Plame and Wilson about their real-life battles with the Bush regime over its decision to wage war in Iraq, FAIR GAME shines a harsh, uncompromising light on the dark, sinister events that led to our misadventures in the Middle East.

Working from a screenplay by Jez Butterworth and his brother John-Henry Butterworth, Liman skilfully handles a multi-layered story, not only dramatizing a large, controversial piece of American history but bringing out its human dimensions. His decision to operate as cinematographer as well as director is an important factor in that regard. His use of a hand-held camera in the love scenes between Watts and Penn makes for a rare immediacy and intimacy.

Having two such skilful actors as Watts and Penn in the lead roles is another reason why FAIR GAME comes off so well. Both have the emotional depth and command of craft needed to create complex, difficult but intensely human characters--characters who not only must battle huge, impersonal political forces but struggle to keep their marriage from unraveling.

Plame and Wilson were whistle-blowers. The former, a non-official covert operative for the CIA who was responsible for running intelligence operations in Iraq, discovered that, contrary to what the White House was saying, Saddam Hussein's nuclear-weapons program had been dismantled by UN inspectors in the 1990s. The latter, a retired diplomat, had a similar experience. Sent by the State Department to Niger to investigate rumors of the possible sale of enriched uranium to Iraq, he found that no such deal had taken place.

The Bush regime rejected their findings and, still insisting Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, declared war on that country. When Wilson went public with his contrarian position (in a New York Times op-ed piece), a firestorm of controversy was ignited. The White House outed Plame's undercover status to the press, thereby endangering not only her own life but the lives of all her overseas contacts. At the same time, the CIA and the State Department caved in to pressure and refused, respectively, to stand behind their loyal, longtime employees.

It was left to Plame and Wilson, the fair game of the film's title, to wage a lonely but brave war on behalf of the principles of truth and democracy.