AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2010
By Don Simpson | October 31, 2010
Director: Doug Liman
Writer(s): Jez Butterworth , John-Henry Butterworth (screenplay), Joseph Wilson (book “The Politics of Truth”), Valerie Plame (book “Fair Game”)
Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Pean, Ty Burrell, Sam Shepard, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Bruce McGill
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last seven years, you will probably recognize the name Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts). As an undercover CIA Operations Officer specializing in the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, Plame became an internationally renowned celebrity when the White House leaked her identity to the Washington Post’s Robert Novak in retaliation to a scathing op-ed authored by her husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn). What on earth could Wilson have written to get the White House so damn infuriated with him that they would put his wife and all of her past associates’ lives at risk? (To quote the clever wordsmith Karl Rove: “Wilson’s wife is fair game.”)
Well…Wilson had been asked by Vice President Cheney’s office (via the CIA) to travel to Niger (where he had previously served as a United States Foreign Service diplomat) to investigate whether or not Iraq had purchased (or attempted to purchase) 50 tons of yellowcake uranium ore from Niger. Wilson found no evidence to support the claim but the White House deliberately ignored him. Shortly after Bush’s infamously hawkish 2003 State of the Union Address, Wilson decided to make his conclusions public in a New York Times piece titled “What I didn’t find in Niger”, thus prompting the evil empire of Bush and Cheney’s White House to strike back with a vengeance.
Around the time Wilson was volunteering for the CIA, Plame was in Iraq interviewing several Iraqi scientists. Her investigation concluded that Iraq had no active nuclear weapons program. Combined with Wilson’s findings, the CIA was pretty well convinced that Iraq was not a nuclear threat. As we all know by now, the White House (more precisely the Vice President’s office) did not agree with the CIA and they made up their own version of the story in order to initiate a war with Iraq. By now, most of us realize that we — the citizens of the United States — were blatantly lied to by the President of the United States and we have been forced to live with the horrible consequences of that lie ever since. Countless innocent people have died and trillions of dollars have been wasted as a direct result of Bush and Cheney’s deception.
The leaking of Plame’s identity prompted the federal criminal trial United States v. Libby. Lewis Libby (former Chief of Staff to Dick Cheney) was eventually convicted of making false statements, perjury and obstruction of justice (none of his convictions relate directly to the Plame revelation). Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison and a fine of $250,000. (The prison time was commuted by President Bush.)
It is important to know Wilson’s background… Wilson served 22 years as a United States Foreign Service diplomat in Africa and Iraq, and then later served as Special Assistant to President Bill Clinton and as Senior Director for African Affairs on the United States National Security Council. During the George H. W. Bush administration, in the wake of Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Wilson became the last American diplomat to meet with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Soon after their meeting, Hussein threatened to execute anyone sheltering foreigners in Iraq. Wilson then appeared at a press conference wearing a noose around his neck and stating, “If the choice is to allow American citizens to be taken hostage or to be executed, I will bring my own fucking rope.” Wilson sheltered more than 100 Americans at the US embassy in Baghdad and evacuated several thousand people (Americans and other nationals) from Iraq. He was called “a true American hero” by President George H. W. Bush.
Fair Game is an extremely cut-and-dry re-creation of the aforementioned events (all purportedly based on factual evidence). Unfortunately, any sense of dramatic tension is lost for most of us since the real story is still very fresh in our minds.
Doug Liman’s film also focuses on the aftershocks that this whole ordeal has on Plame and Wilson. With their careers and marriage on the brink of total destruction, Plame and Wilson helplessly try to keep their reputations intact all the while maintaining as much dignity as humanly possible.
Unfortunately, Plame and Wilson seem almost too flawless and too victimized which causes the film to lose its sense of realism. Both characters are served-up to us as idols — better yet, martyrs. Believe me, I have a tremendous amount of respect for both Plame and Wilson — especially Wilson, for his unyielding opposition to the Iraq War. Watts and Penn are almost too perfectly cast — these characters seem way too simple for them. (Penn is practically portraying himself.)
Even after watching the endless news reports about Plamegate as it was occurring and now Hollywood’s re-creation, Fair Game (which is based on Plame and Wilson’s respective memoirs), it is totally mind-boggling to think that a White House administration would ask so irresponsibly in risking the lives of two very highly respected government servants.
Factually and politically, Fair Game does not bring anything new to the table. I do not think this film will change any Bush-lovers’ minds about their beloved president. Heck, by casting Penn as Wilson, Liman has ensured that no card-carrying Republican will give Fair Game a fair chance. So, in other words, Liman is going to find himself preaching to the choir.
Ever since the 2010 Austin Film Festival screening, I have been pondering one question: what is the point of Fair Game? I have yet to find an answer.