One of the key ingredients in President George W. Bush's campaign to convince the American people of the necessity of invading Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein from power was the sixteen lines in his January 28, 2003 State of the Union address in which he claimed that “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” presumably to build a nuclear bomb. Though the CIA and the State Department told the White House that this was not good intelligence, by repeating this false statement, Bush was able to push through a vote in Congress to authorize the war in Iraq, warning of “mushroom clouds” over American cities.
Directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) and based on books written by covert CIA operative Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and her husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn), Fair Game is a hard hitting political thriller about events leading up to the Iraq War of 2003 that dramatizes the Bush Administration's eagerness to convince Americans that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to our national security. Though partly fictionalized, the film points to many real events and uses the actual names of the participants involved with the exception of the invented exiled Iraqi doctor (Liraz Charhi) Valerie recruits and her brother (Khaled Nabawy), a scientist living in Baghdad.
Fair Game survives a confusing opening hour that shows events around the globe from Kuaka Lumpur, to Amman, Jordan, to Cairo, Egypt and Cleveland, Ohio in its effort to establish that Plame, a hardened CIA spy for 18 years, worked in secret on a mission to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Though Plame did work in that capacity, depiction of events that take place abroad in the film's first hour are imagined since Plame's real work in the CIA is classified, though Liman claims that credible scenarios were pieced together from interviews with other sources.
Plame hides her secret life by telling friends that she is working as a venture capitalist, and even her husband knows little of her whereabouts and what exactly she is working on. Liman describes the Wilson's home life including their relationship with their two small children and reminds us how difficult it was for both spouses. According to the script by Jez Butterworth and his brother John-Henry, Plame is soon asked to lead a special Task Force to ascertain the legitimacy of reports that Niger has sold 50 tons of “yellowcake” uranium ore to Saddam Hussein. Consequently, her husband, Joe Wilson, a former US diplomat in both Niger and Iraq and knowledgeable about Niger, was dispatched with Valerie's approval to Africa to investigate.
Wilson, in reporting back to the CIA on his mission, established to his and the agency's satisfaction that not only were these reports false, but it would have been impossible for Niger to make such a uranium sale. The White House was informed by the CIA of this fact in March 2002, 10 months before the president's speech. In a July 6 opinion piece for the New York Times, Wilson wrote: “Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” He added that, given the administration's rejection of his and the CIA's analysis “because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses.”
Shortly thereafter, Wilson's wife Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA spy was exposed in a column written by Richard Novak, a reporter friendly to the White House. Though the reason behind the exposure is not known with certainty, Wilson claimed that Karl Rove told reporters that outing Plame in the newspaper was “fair game”, and the former diplomat calls his wife's exposure an act of political reprisal for the piece critical of the White House that he had written for the New York Times. Whatever the motive, it was a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and led to the appointment of a special prosecutor and the indictment and sentencing of Cheney's Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, a sentence commuted by President Bush.
With Valerie's cover blown, she is dismissed by the C.I.A. called a traitor by sycophants in the media, threatened with death by phone calls to her Washington, D.C. home, and rejected by her friends who ask her if she carries a gun and has she ever killed anyone? Plame is reluctant to go public but her husband willingly talks on TV shows to clear their names and bring to light the administration's chicanery. This public display, however, threatens the stability of their marriage as Wilson attempts to convince his wife to speak out but is met with strong resistance.
The turning point, according to the film, is Valerie's visit to her parents, especially when her father (Sam Shepard), a retired Air Force officer, convinces her that loyalty to one's country can work both ways. Labeled as “inspired by real events” and told from the viewpoint of Plame and Wilson with events in the White House taken from actual court transcripts, Fair Game is a timely reminder of the abuse of governmental power and the lives of innocent people that are caught in the crosswinds. Though the film's second half feels strangely rushed and incomplete, Fair Game is a powerful film that forces us to relive the outrage of those days when government deception was an everyday occurrence.
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