Valerie (Naomi Watts), you may recall, was the Central Intelligence Agency operative outed by the Bush administration after her husband Joe (Sean Penn) accused the White House of dissembling about weapons of mass destruction during the march to war against Iraq. Joe Wilson, a former US ambassador, had gone to Africa at the behest of the CIA, investigated the alleged sale of the infamous “yellowcake” uranium and found no evidence that Iraq ever bought any nuclear material. The conclusion of Valerie and her team of analysts at the CIA was that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. When the president, in his State of the Union address, claimed otherwise, Joe went on the warpath, ultimately accusing the administration of lying in a New York Times op/ed piece. Then, the story goes, Valerie’s identity as a CIA spook was revealed, her career at the CIA destroyed, in order to discredit her husband.
Fair Game recounts all of that, but then shifts focus to create an intimate portrait of a couple facing a life-altering attack. As Valerie’s career disintegrates, her marriage begins to collapse under the strain.
What’s interesting about Valerie and Joe is not that they are exceptional, but rather that they are, in a lot of ways, a fairly ordinary couple. Joe’s older, already retired from his first career, now a stay-at-home Dad starting up a consulting business. He gets the bulk of the child-care duty (they have young twins) while his younger globetrotting wife, her career still in its ascendancy, works late in the night at a high-stress, demanding job. Temperamentally, they’re quite different: He’s an idealist and a hothead for whom being right is more important than anything. He never leaves a dinner party without getting into at least one argument, while his cooler, more reserved wife bites her tongue and is good at keeping secrets.
Joe spends his days in a righteous fury, tilting at windmills with all his might. His best weapon, the truth, is no match for White House operatives who decide what’s true and bend reality to suit their political purposes. Levelheaded, calm and persuasive, Valerie is accustomed to analyzing data and interpreting reality. As ambitious as she is, and as devoted to the truth as she is, she’s a team player and understands that hers is not the final word. As the story is told in Fair Game, she gets caught in the crossfire between Joe and the White House.
Written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (based on memoirs by Valerie Plame Wilson and Joe Wilson) and directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith), Fair Game requires quite a bit of setup, which the movie moves through briskly, with both Joe and Valerie hopping from one global hot-spot to another. It helps, watching the movie, if you’re already familiar with the basics of what happened in the Plame affair, and the political import of it all.
The world is, of course, still dealing with the fallout of the Bush years, but Fair Game chooses to focus primarily on the personal consequences for the Wilsons. They are, in the big picture, small potatoes – just more collateral damage in the Bush Wars. But, as Fair Game reveals, no target was too small to be in the crosshairs of the venal, mendacious Bush operatives Scooter Libby (David Andrews, hatefully smooth-talking and self-satisfied) and Karl Rove (Adam LeFevre).
The movie mixes video clips from the Bush presidency (carefully selected to inflame old sentiments anew) with Liman’s juddering hand-held camera footage to create an unsettling, immediate sense of the floor falling out from under the Wilsons and the end of the world as we knew it. Fair Game is a gripping, infuriating cloak-and-dagger political thriller about how all politics is personal, and how the petty, vindictive personal stuff and the neocon world order stuff collided in the attack on the Wilsons.
Syd’s pick:Go get Go from Doug Liman’s back catalogue
Go (1999) is a movie that, like its reckless young characters, can’t wait to get started. Frenetic scenes of a rave interrupt the slow fadeout of the studio logo with an engine-revving urgency that hardly lets up for the next two hours, as the film follows ten adrenaline-fueled, drug-addled, slacker debauchees as they find ingenious ways to get into and out of trouble.
Director Doug Liman never lets Go spin out of control, but the movie has a real in-the-moment kind of energy and urgency. A sense of improvisation is maintained from the get-go, accentuated by each character’s blinkered self-absorption: They never see what’s coming, and neither does the audience. Despite the frantic pace, Liman manages to delve remarkably deeply into each character, and draws revealing, mercurial performances from the talented young cast.
The story is strewn with amusingly clever red herrings, and bits of narrative are intentionally left dangling here and there, waiting for another character to come along and pick up the pieces. With its elaborately plotted, kismet-concatenation disguised as roll-of-the-dice randomness, Go is like a funny, frantic board game: Everybody starts at Go, hops around the board and ends up back at the beginning – with nothing to show for their efforts but a few lost hours.
@ Syd M