What I’ve Been Watching: Fair Game

Fair game movie posterOver the past few years there have been a lot of films about The Iraq War. Lions for Lambs, The Hurt Locker, In the Valley of Elah and Green Zone among the most high profile. All of them attempted to say something new about the war many have called “this generation’s Vietnam”, although arguably they’ve said more about the horror of war generally than the specifics of this one. In this sense Fair Game is different.

Based on a true story, it tells the story of Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and her husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn). Valerie is a CIA operative involved in operations in the Middle East. She recommends her husband for a mission to Niger to find out if Saddam Hussein has been buying uranium for WMD’s.

Wilson reports there is no evidence for either the production or transportation of such a large amount of uranium. Despite this, in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address he claims the opposite. As a result Wilson writes a report entitled What I Didn’t Find In Africa designed to discredit Bush’s claims.

Clearly annoyed by Wilson’s article, a member of the Bush administration leaks the identity of Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent; Karl Rove subsequently declaring she was “fair game” [as a result of her husband’s article].

Aside from dealing with the political nature of Wilson’s revelations, the film also looks at the impact of these events on the protagonists’ personal lives.

As Palme deals with the death threats that come as a result of her identity being leaked, we see the choices and sacrifices one must make to take on the most powerful government in the world. Wilson believes they should stop at nothing to make sure the truth is heard. Palme is more concerned about the impact this is happening on her safety and the safety of her children.

In making the story a personal one, we are clearly meant to see how dehumanising Rove’s description of Plame was. As though an individual’s right to their job and their privacy is easily done away with for some perceived “greater good”. (A philosophy which can clearly be seen in the same administration’s USA PATRIOT Act.)

This subjective account makes the film unapologetic in its support of Wilson/Palme. However, ten years on, when one considers Wilson’s claims in comparison to Bush’s, perhaps it’s fair to say history has judged which account we should take as being the accurate one.

If the film has any faults, it’s that it takes a long time to get to the heart of its story. It opens as a fairly typical spy thriller, as we follow Palme on one of her operations in the Middle East. This bears little relation to the rest of the film, aside from establishing her job. Likewise, too many of the opening exchanges are clearly setting up the audience for events later in the film; lines such as “you knew that when you married me” rearing their ugly head.

(As a side note, it’s interesting to consider the number of lines in a movie which are for the benefit of the audience, and how many are for benefit of the character they’re speaking to. Lines such as “Let me get this straight…” or “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” belonging firmly in the former camp.)

Fair Game is a story which seems to get to the heart of the Bush administration in a way few other movies have. Although the script falters in places, the importance and validity of Wilson’s allegations make this film well worth your time.


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