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FAIR GAME (director: Doug Liman; screenwriters: Jez Butterworth/John-Henry Butterworth/based on the books “The Politics of Truth,” by Joseph Wilson, and “Fair Game,” by Valerie Plame Wilson; cinematographer: Doug Liman; editor: Christopher Tellefsen; music: John Powell; cast: Naomi Watts (Valerie Plame Wilson), Sean Penn (Joseph Wilson), Sam Shepard (Sam Plame), Noah Emmerich (Bill), Bruce McGill (Jim Pavitt), David Andrews (I. Lewis Libby Jr), Tim Griffin (Paul), Liraz Charhi (Dr. Zahraa), Khaled Nabawy (Hamed); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Bill Pohlad/Janet Zucker/Jerry Zucker/Akiva Goldsman/Jez Butterworth/Doug. Liman; Summit Entertainment; 2010)
“Gripping factual drama.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The historical pic is based on the respective books written by Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) called “Fair Game: How A Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed By Her Own Government” and the book written by her husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) called The Politics of Truth.”

Valerie is the covert CIA operative of eighteen years who was outed by the Bush administration because of her hubby, the former ambassador to Niger, who wrote, after Bush’s State of the Union address, an op-ed piece in the NY Times about the White House lying about why America is going to war with Iraq. Joe should know, since he was asked by the CIA to go undercover to the African country of Niger and investigate if they shipped yellowcakeuranium and aluminum cylinders to Saddam Hussein and concluded they did not. Upon his wife’s further investigation for the CIA, she concluded that Iraq has no active nuclear weapons program.

Director Doug Liman (“Go”/”Swingers”/”The Bourne Identity“) focuses on these two unlikely American heroes in this gripping factual drama, as the outed Valerie – a mother, a wife and an acknowledged efficient field officer – after being outed is struggling to save her reputation, her career and her marriage. The vice president’s chief of staff, the serpentine “Scooter” Libby (David Andrews), leaked Valerie’s identity to Washington Post columnist Robert Novak in retribution.

The stubborn idealistic US diplomat, Joe, took to the airwaves to tell his side of the story, while Valerie endured the wrath of an ignorant public who telephoned threats and those in the White House who began a smear campaign against the couple. Liman does a fine job showing how deeply this White House smear campaign affected both the couple and the country. In the end, both Valerie and Joe are vindicated. Meanwhile Scooter Libby becomes the fall guy for the administration, but his prison sentence is commuted by Bush.

One of the best scenes has Valerie lie to the couple’s friends about her true occupation, as she poses as a venture capitalist executive. It shows that working for the government in a political or espionage position entails lying. It also shows that the media does a poor job of informing the public about what is really going on, as Valerie’s educated friends were brainwashed by the media propaganda and got it all wrong about the war.

The director and writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth are able to assuredly document recent history, no easy task, and give the viewer a feeling of being a fly on the wall overhearing all the betrayals while given a lucid view of the rush to war. One couldn’t help feeling an outrage for all the perversity of the government agencies (like the spineless CIA), the agenda-driven White House advisers and the hacks in the press for misleading the public. Their actions in not protecting the public’s interest allowed the embellished President to start an unnecessary war that took so many lives and played a great part in America’s economic downturn and fall from its moral high ground in the international community.

Sean Penn gives an Academy Award performance as the unflappable honest man fighting the powerful Goliaths of the White House on his own; while Naomi Watts gives a riveting performance as the conflicted resilient career and family woman wanting to keep things from going public, but who eventually tells us “I don’t have a breaking point.”

Fair Game leaves us with the earnest message that ‘Democracy is not a free ride.’

The title comes from Bush adviser, the venal Karl Rove, who allegedly told MSNBC’s Chris Mathews that “Wilson’s wife is fair game.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”