Warning: If you don’t remember the Valerie Plame affair of a few years ago, you should brush up on the scandal before going to see Fair Game, the new movie based on the story.
Naomi Watts plays Valerie Wilson (know to her colleagues by the pseudonym Valerie Plame), an undercover spy who strong-arms some shady individuals across the globe in exchange for top-secret weapons intelligence. Her husband, Joe (Sean Penn), is a self-righteous ambassador to Niger, instructed by the White House to investigate a possible yellowcake uranium exchange in Africa. Confirming that such an exchange ever occurred would have enormous consequences, namely, verifying American suspicions that Saddam Hussein had been housing a nuclear weapons program. Suffice it to say, Joe never finds any evidence of a yellowcake exchange. Months later, the United States invades Iraq anyway.
The second half of the film is where things get interesting. Joe, infuriated by a war that started on false pretenses, writes an article on “what he didn’t find in Africa.” A counter-article is published that besmirches him and exposes Valerie’s identity as a CIA operative, thus putting the Wilsons’ careers, friendships, and marriage in jeopardy. The story shifts from the Iraq War to the emotional battle that wages between the Wilsons and the rest of American society, which at this point, has become anxious for answers.
The White House is portrayed as nothing more than a political clique riddled with incompetence. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer is easily intimidated by the media and stumbles frequently during interviews.Scooter Libby bullies and tries to coerce CIA agents into consenting to a military strike.
It shouldn’t be too hard to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys, as both present their arguments as loudly as they can. The CIA insists that pictures showing metal tubing, potentially used to enrich uranium, are inconclusive and cannot justify a military strike. The White House makes the argument that Saddam Hussein’s regime is openly hostile to the United States and therefore should be challenged with a preemptive strike regardless of the status of their weapons program. It’s pretty obvious which side of the argument the movie takes, but if you’re still confused about who’s good and who’s bad, here’s a simple rule: the bad guys are the ones who pronounce “nuclear” as “nucular,” and the good guys are the ones who end up crying at some point in the film.
The movie fails to discuss how it was not the ruthlessness of the American media that led to the leaking of Valerie Wilson’s position, but former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage who gave the tip to a news reporter. Since Armitage is left out of the film, Joe Wilson’s crusade is against the media. He goes across America talking to anybody who will listen: MSNBC, Chris Matthews, and college auditoriums. Omitting Armitage does, however, portray the media as particularly vicious, simplifying what was a complicated political scandal.
Fair Game is as intriguing on the big screen as it was in real life. For the sake of the audience’s patience, the movie reduces the subsequent trials and investigations to a footnote at the end of the film. It may sound like a lazy way of wrapping things up, but in reality it closes the story perfectly. There’s a fine line between including as many facts as possible and keeping the movie entertaining. In this case, they nailed it.