Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Short Take: Fair Game

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Fair Game, about the Valerie Plame case, should have been a lot better. Plame was a covert CIA officer specializing in nuclear weapons counter-proliferation. In 2002, her husband Joseph Wilson, a former diplomat, traveled to Niger at the CIA’s request to investigate whether Saddam Hussein had purchased enriched uranium there. Wilson firmly concluded the Iraqi dictator hadn’t. A few months later, in the 2003 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush stated that Hussein had indeed sought to make such a purchase. This prompted Wilson to write a New York Times op-ed detailing his findings. Shortly thereafter, Plame’s CIA status was made public in concert with the Bush administration’s efforts to discredit Wilson. The outing of Plame resulted in, among other things, a special-prosecutor investigation that led to the conviction of White House official Scooter Libby for obstruction of justice. The film handles everything up through the revelation of Plame’s identity reasonably well. It provides effective (albeit necessarily fictionalized) depictions of her activities with the CIA. Wilson’s trip to Niger is dramatized clearly and succinctly. The couple’s home life is nicely portrayed, and the performances of Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, who play Plame and Wilson, are spot-on. But the film largely sidesteps the juicy public aftermath of the revelation of Plame’s identity. It doesn’t get into the criminal investigation, the assorted grand-jury dramas, or the trial and conviction of Libby. Instead, it becomes preoccupied with the stress the scandal had on the couple’s marriage. The film doesn't climax with the (modest) justice that prevailed in the case; it ends with the pair’s decision to keep their marriage together. Director Doug Liman and his screenwriters go narrow when they needed to go wide. They don’t appear to recognize that the story became much larger than Plame and Wilson. Treating it as the context for domestic melodrama is a disservice to both the case and the audience.

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