Fair GameIn 2001, CIA officer Valerie Plame’s (Naomi Watts) investigations lead her to conclude that Iraq does not have an active nuclear weapons programme, contrary to the belief (and fervent desire) of senior government officials. A request is made on behalf of the Vice President’s office that her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), undertake a fact finding trip to Niger to uncover solid evidence of a massive yellow cake uranium sale to Iraq. Wilson accepts the assignment, and reports after his return to the U.S. that there is no evidence of such a sale and that it could not have happened without some sort of paper trail. Outraged when President Bush subsequently cites evidence of the debunked uranium sale as part of the Administration’s WMD justification for the invasion of Iraq, Wilson publishes a scathing op ed piece in the New York Times which effectively brands the President a liar, bringing the wrath of Bush’s inner circle down on him and his wife.

It’s disconcerting that vast numbers of Americans seem only to become aware of some of the shocking abuses of power committed under the Bush Administration when the events are replayed in feature films. Fair Game, which recounts the story of Valerie Plame’s deliberate exposure as a covert operative by senior Bush officials, is another indictment of U.S. government subterfuge amounting to nothing less than a betrayal of the founding principles of their country.

To its great credit, Fair Game is restrained in its depiction of the deplorable actions of senior government officials including Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. Unlike Oliver Stone’s entertaining but broad strokes depiction of the Bush inner circle in W., men such as Libby are not presented as evil right wing caricatures; they are simply loyalists whose job is to manipulate people and facts to achieve the administration’s desired outcome. Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson were vilified in order to discredit them and protect the President’s reputation, as the government was determined to invade Iraq, remove their former ally and establish a strong military presence in the region regardless of any real threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

The ignorance of many Americans about the constitutionally illegal actions of Bush and his cronies and the complicated agenda behind the War on Terror is worrying and somewhat astonishing. This ignorance extends well beyond ‘Red State’ Americans considered by some inside and outside the U.S. to be woefully unaware of global political realities. Two dinner table scenes with Plame’s and Wilson’s friends neatly highlight the fact that many middle class, educated Americans bought into the government’s (and much of the U.S. media’s) deliberate use of fear to further its Middle East agenda in the wake of 9/11. Wilson sits quietly listening to his friends’ misinformed, racist ranting about Arabs, terrorists and Iraq, and at the second dinner he snaps at one friend (Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell) that he, Joe Wilson, has stared into Saddam Hussein’s eyes, and that his friend doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Another scene in which Wilson is accosted by a journalist during a business meeting in a DC restaurant and called a ‘traitor’ further highlights how ignorance fueled by misguided patriotism can be as powerful an agent of control as fear when skillfully orchestrated.

Plame and Wilson never come across as starry eyed idealists; she was after all a CIA covert operative, and he was a former ambassador to Africa, so both were clearly pragmatists with insiders’ views of the machinations of the U.S. government. Penn’s Wilson simply cannot abide the outrageous actions of his government, and Watts’ Plame feels deeply responsible to those whose lives are deeply affected by her actions. Director Doug Liman, previously known for directing intense action (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) and comedy (Swingers, Go) rather than emotionally charged political thrillers, strikes a fine balance between thriller elements and the domestic drama at the heart of the story. Some complain that films like Fair Game and Green Zone (which makes for a striking companion piece) do the facts no great service by taking certain liberties in the service of story (such as creating composite characters), but I disagree. In an era when the highly rated U.S. cable service Fox News spews biased and erroneous reporting 24 hours a day, and liberals rely on the ‘fake’ news of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show to point out the absurdities if not outright criminality of the U.S. government’s actions, more didactic features like these are clearly needed. These films will hopefully make many more Americans pause long enough to consider whether the path their country is on is one they want to tread.