The political thriller Fair Game premiered at Cannes today. (Pause for giant, collective yawn from Big Hollywood readers…)
The Sean Penn-Naomi Watts “starrer” (hey, it’s fun using unnecessarily awkward Variety-speak!) revisits the Valerie Plame Wilson scandal, an episode I’m not even going to bother recapping, because to do so would simply be coma-inducing for all of us. Besides, I already summed up the affair and dissected the screenplay’s political slant for Big Hollywood here. Suffice it to say, it’s a tale the Hollywood Left is hell-bent on getting Americans to care about.
As are its water-carriers in the media. In a deceptive puff piece an article last week for the Los Angeles Times, Rachel Abramowitz discusses the film and interviews its director Doug Liman. The first clue that we’re about to be sold a crockpot of hooey comes when she describes Valerie Plame as “the undercover CIA operative whose name was leaked to the media by the Bush White House in an effort to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson.”
Notice how matter-of-factly those lies are delivered. Matter-of-fact because the left-dominated entertainment industry clings to its anti-Bush narrative about the affair as received wisdom: courageous patriot Joe Wilson dared speak truth to power by exposing the lies neocons used to promote a “war of choice,” and then the wicked Bush and his flying monkeys Rove and Cheney plotted vengeance against him from their White House lair.
Once again, people: there is no evidence that the “Bush White House” conspired to leak Plame’s name to the media, or that it was done to discredit her husband or expose her identity. Even the Obama Justice Department dismissed the Wilsons’ attempt to sue Rove, Cheney, and Libby, stating flatly that Joe Wilson had provided no evidence that the three officials had caused him harm.
But back to the media sleight-of-hand. Ms. Abramowitz then refers to “the eventual trial and conviction of ‘Scooter’ Libby, a top aide to then-Vice President Dick Cheney,” without clarifying what he was convicted of. Her phrasing, and the screenplay itself, suggest that Libby was guilty of the leak (and Cheney as well, via guilt-by-association). No, Libby perjured himself to investigators by concealing what he knew and when he knew it; it was State Dept. official Richard Armitage, by his own admission, who leaked Plame’s name. And he did it not in retaliation for her husband’s criticism of the administration, but inadvertently, claiming he didn’t realize she was covert. But as I wrote before at Big Hollywood, his name does not appear in the script. That’s because it would utterly suck the wind out of the movie’s already limp sails to admit that “the Bush White House” did not conspire to punish the Wilsons.
Abramowitz says that, according to Liman, “events in the movie follow the facts.” Yes, if after “the facts” you add “according to the anti-war Left’s willful delusion.” Having thus established for her readers that the film is “true-to-life,” Ms. Abramowitz then gets to the article’s astonishing central claim: that in Fair Game, ” Liman pushed the politics of the events into the background.”
Yes, if by “background” she means “foreground.” The Valerie Plame story is political in its very essence. The whole point of the Wilsons’ story is their claim that they were targeted for retaliation for challenging the administration’s justification for war. Removing that linchpin by “pushing the politics into the background” would simply cause the entire story to vanish.
The filmmakers “leave the political debate largely off screen,” Abramowitz continues, “and much of the activity of the Bush White House officials is presented in news clips.” True, as I noted in my previous piece, top figures like Bush and Cheney are presented in Fair Game only in film footage; but those clips are carefully selected to suggest a White House cover-up, and the script itself hammers that theory home. The scenes that do fictionally depict White House officials show Rove’s and Libby’s characters conspiring to “out” Plame’s CIA identity.
Liman chimes in, describing how producer Janet Zucker “was particularly impassioned about the behavior of the Bush administration… It was actually very helpful to have this incredibly strong-willed, liberal-minded producer in the mix because it put me in a very reactionary mood, which ultimately drove the politics out of the movie.” (A liberal-minded producer in Hollywood? Who knew?!)
Drove the politics out of the movie? Not the movie I read. Liman is claiming that he and Zucker balanced each other out and created a compromise in which politics is merely a walk-on character. I find it impossible to believe that an “incredibly strong-willed, liberal-minded producer,” whose driving motivation for pursuing this story was to expose Bush wrongdoing, would accept such a compromise. I also find it impossible to believe the Wilsons themselves would be happy having the crux of their story redacted from the film (the real Valerie Plame, by the way, went to Cannes to promote it).
And what about the star Sean Penn? Raise your hand if you believe that the openly far-left activist Penn would cheerily go along with a politically neutral take on this affair… Uh huh. As I expected, not a single hand.
In all fairness, I haven’t yet seen the movie, so perhaps it now bears little resemblance to the openly partisan script I previously examined on Big Hollywood. But based on that screenplay, to say that the movie is about the Wilsons’ strained relationship and only marginally about politics is, well, let’s be charitable and call it disingenuous. After all, no sooner does the Times article claim that Fair Game is a politics-free zone, when Liman contradicts himself with a revealing analogy to Spielberg’s Jaws: “The shark is a lot scarier when you see less of it. I decided to apply that approach to the White House.” Sounds like the politics hasn’t so much been driven out of the movie as elevated to a central, ominous presence.
Lest one question why we shouldn’t take Liman at his word, he helpfully points out that “I’m used to manipulating people. That’s one of the main criteria of making it as a director in Hollywood… You have to be a con artist.” With this in mind, one can’t help but wonder if he and L.A. Times enabler Rachel Abramowitz are trying to pull off a con themselves: to reassure readers that Fair Game isn’t just another leftist, politicized attack on the Iraq War – because they know, as I have written before, that that would be met with even greater audience indifference than was Matt Damon’s dud The Green Zone (Abramowitz herself raises the fearsome specter of that movie’s failure.)
Audience indifference except at Cannes, of course, where international cinema sophisticates gather to congratulate themselves on their anti-Americanism, and among the media leftists like reviewer Jeffrey Wells, who giddily predicts Cannes-and-Oscar glory for a “film which exposes right-wing scumbaggery.”
They eagerly embrace Fair Game‘s political slant – a slant the L.A. Times denies the movie has.