Spy thrillers have for years been among the most popular genres of entertainment. How exciting to imagine that the man or woman living next door is an actual spy! “Fair Game” tells the true story of Valerie Plame, who was an actual covert CIA agent. Her true occupation was known only to her husband, Joe Wilson, and to her parents. Even they did not know details of her operations. Other family members and friends, including her two children, assumed she was like one of other thousands of Washington, DC, area working mothers.
All this changed when Valerie was “outed” by her own government. The headline-grabbing story took place in June 2003, a few months after the outbreak of the Iraq war. A year before, Wilson had been sent to Niger to investigate leads that Niger was sending uranium to Iraq for the manufacture of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Wilson found no evidence that this was true. Later, Wilson found that the White House disregarded his findings, and, contrary to what he found, announced that Iraq had indeed received uranium from an African country. Frustrated that the truth was not coming out, Wilson wrote an article for the New York Times telling his side of the story. In retaliation, a senior White House official leaked the identity of Plame, Wilson’s wife, thus endangering herself and many of her contacts throughout the world.
“Fair Game” is at its best when it goes beyond the headlines into the personal lives of Plame and Wilson, well-played by Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. Before her identity was leaked, we see how their marriage was strained by Plame’s frequent trips to undisclosed locations, without knowing how long she would be away. During the same period, social gatherings with Joe and Valerie’s friends are amusing and ironic. Of course, the couple must maintain the illusion that they know nothing more than international affairs than any other well-informed citizen.
After Plame’s identity is revealed, their marriage and family life become even more strained. By this time, Joe is assertive, appearing on television interviews and public appearances, telling his side of the story. Valerie will not speak out, understandably concerned over threats to herself and the safety of her family. Joe and Valerie even separate briefly over their differing opinions of how to deal with the media coverage and the spotlight they suddenly find themselves under.
Directed by Doug Liman, with a screenplay adapted from the books written by Plame and Wilson, “Fair Game” is, for the most part, solid filmmaking, looking into our nation’s recent past. The passion of Joe and Valerie to bring out the truth of their predicament, and the illegal tactics of high-ranking government officials, is commendable. Dominicans will be quick to note that telling the truth often has its costs! My only reservation is that the film occasionally comes off as “preachy,” and heavy-handed. This is especially the case in the final scene in which Wilson speaks to a class of students. By this point, I felt like I was being beaten over the head by the filmmakers’ agenda. I would have appreciated a more subtle conclusion to an absorbing true story.
Tom Condon, OP