'Fair Game' Review: Sean Penn's Propaganda is Neither Fair Nor Game

Some films end with revelations that strengthen the story and leave audiences impressed by a well-orchestrated twist. Other endings undercut the stories that preceded them and make audiences wonder why they even bothered paying attention. “Fair Game,” the new film that chronicles the conspiratorial story of former CIA operative Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and her husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), features the second type of ending when, after focusing on a White House conspiracy, it reveals the truth about who leaked Plame’s identity to the media.

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Fair Game” is based on a book written by Plame and former ambassador Wilson. It begins by introducing Plame, a CIA operative, who is on a secret mission in Kuala Lampur. She eventually returns home to her husband and the two spend an evening out to dinner with their friends. Her friends don’t know that Plame is working for the CIA and the couple want to keep it that way.

According to the film, the Vice President’s office soon requests that someone should travel to Niger to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein sought uranium from that country. At the time, the Bush administration was reviewing intelligence reports about Iraq’s leader and the threat that he posed to the United States. Plame supports sending her husband to Niger to investigate the reports. After his trip, Wilson returns to the United States and reports that a sale of uranium didn’t occur.

To publicize his discovery and to undermine President Bush’s rhetoric about the threat that Hussein posed, Wilson submits a column to the New York Times. In the article, he notes that such a deal had not occurred. The publication of that article occurs halfway through “Fair Game” and the rest of the story focuses on the war that the Bush administration waged against Wilson and his wife, whose identity was eventually leaked to columnist Robert Novak. The filmmakers argue that the Bush administration orchestrated the leak and sought to undercut the credibility of Wilson and Plame.

Unfortunately, many of the arguments in the film are undermined by the facts. Richard Armitage, a deputy secretary of state, was the real source who revealed Valerie Plame’s identity to Novak. That simple undeniable fact is seen in the scroll at the very end of “Fair Game.” As John Nolte noted in his review of the film, a damning Washington Post editorial clarified many of the allegations that are presented in “Fair Game.” The liberal newspaper’s editorial noted:

One of the most sensational charges leveled against the Bush White House — that it orchestrated the leak of Ms. Plame’s identity to ruin her career and thus punish Mr. Wilson — is untrue.” The editorial later noted that “it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame’s CIA career is Mr. Wilson.

These ideas have no place in “Fair Game,” a story that targets the truth as much as it targets the Bush White House.

Naomi Watts does a great job in her role as Valerie Plame. Despite the liberties taken in the story, Watts shows vulnerability as a woman whose life changed forever when her identity was publicly revealed. However, most of the other characters in the story are one-dimensional. For instance, Joe Wilson is “indignant” during many of his scenes. At a dinner party with his friends. Meeting a critic of his wife’s. At home. He’s always angry about something and many of his scenes end with him getting aggravated. On the other side of the aisle, Karl Rove is portrayed as “calculating” and Scooter Libby is “manipulative.” These characters are simple caricatures of what the filmmakers think these people are like.

“Fair Game” is a disappointing movie on many different levels. From the film’s shaky camerawork to the simplification of the characters to the lifeless story, “Fair Game” tells a one-sided account about the leak of an operative’s name.

This movie isn’t fair but more importantly, it isn’t well done either.

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