Fair Game

Fair Game is a brilliant film version of the infamous Valerie Plame scandal: officials of the Bush administration took revenge against a man who spoke the truth about the lack of WMD in Iraq by outing his wife as a CIA agent—an illegal act which destroyed her career and put at risk the lives of her informants in Iraq.

Thanks to director/cinematographer Doug Liman (who as director of Bourne Identity knows a thing or two about making compelling movies), Fair Game unravels its layers of conspiracy like a globe-trotting thriller. It’s a gutsy story, helped by an amazingly lean script and mesmerizing performances from all players. Expect Oscar nominations.

On the surface, Fair Game is like a documentary about powerful men who lie with impunity. More deeply, it’s the personal story of how one married couple, both dedicated patriots, survived deliberate attempts by their government to betray them. This couple didn’t gain lasting fame and riches like Woodward and Bernstein of All the President’s Men fame. Between them, they wrote only two books, but they did manage, against overwhelming odds, to save their marriage.

It’s post 9/11 Washington D.C. Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts)—attractive blonde, mother of twins, graduate of the prestigious London School of Economics—has been a CIA agent for 18 years. Only three people, her parents and her husband (Sean Penn), know who her real employer is. Everyone else thinks she’s a venture capitalist.

Valerie never discusses politics and buys no souvenirs from her many trips abroad. Her husband, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), worries about her long absences and is concerned about the recent bruises on her arms, but he knows Valerie won’t tell him anything.

As a covert officer in the CIA’s Counter-Proliferation Division, which is investigating the existence of WMD in Iraq, Valerie’s sensitive assignment is to get Iraqi informants to reveal the truth of Saddam’s nuclear facilities. She does whatever is necessary to achieve her goals. In one case, she convinces a young medical doctor in Cleveland, Dr. Zahraa (Liraz Chahri), to go to back to her home in Iraq to seek information from her nuclear physicist brother. Valerie promises she will arrange rescue of Dr. Zahraa’s brother and his family. Like everyone else in Iraq, the scientist denies the existence of WMD. Ms. Plame reports her findings from all her informants.

Meanwhile, Valerie’s husband—former ambassador to Niger and expert on African trade—goes to Niger at the request of the CIA to investigate rumors that 500 tons of “yellowcake” uranium (used to make nuclear bombs) were sold to Iraq. He discovers no such sale ever happened. Wilson duly reports his findings.

In his State of the Union address in January, 2003, George W. Bush announces: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Outraged at this stupendous lie, Mr. Wilson writes an op-ed piece in the New York Times telling the truth. In retaliation, Vice President Dick Cheney’s office authorizes a press leak that reveals the annoying Mr. Wilson has a wife who is a CIA agent.

Such a revelation is against the law but who cares about legalities when the country is now at war? Within hours, Valerie’s career is finished. She is abandoned by her CIA bosses. She fears her informants in Iraq will never be rescued. The press hounds them. Strangers threaten to kill them. Valerie’s response is stoic silence. Joe continues to loudly cry foul. Their marriage is in shatters.

Then one lonely night Valerie remembers what she learned as a CIA recruit, when along with other spy wannabes, she was locked in a cell and subjected to “torture” to break her. She was the only recruit to succeed. To keep her resolve during the days of her “interrogation,” she kept telling herself. “I have no breaking point!”

Fortified by her memories, Valerie at long last decides to speak. One American woman, vilified as un-American, eventually proves that real American heroes speak the truth about their government even when their government does not.

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