Review of “Fair Game”

by Gaetana Caldwell-Smith

Director Doug Liman’s film “Fair Game” is based on Valerie Plame’s eponymous book. The movie stirs up the anger and disbelief we all felt in early spring 2003 when we were fed the lies that led up to Bush’s so-called war. Hopefully, it will spur us once again to act to end Bush’s, and now Obama’s, wars.

This beautifully shot film by Liman, in which he uses many video and TV clips, opens on CIA agent Valerie Plame in various foreign locations. Meanwhile, back in the USA, President George W. Bush wants to invade Iraq, having shifted his attention from Afghanistan. Liman often uses a hand-held camera, creating jerky cuts and shakiness that lends the film immediacy.

Plame (a perfectly cast Naomi Watts), once back in D.C., is briefed by her CIA boss Bill Johnson (Noah Emmerich) about the possible invasion of Iraq. On TV, Condi Rice talks about aluminum tubes shipped to Iraq used to enrich uranium for WMDs. She invokes the scary “mushroom cloud” threat.

Limon also includes the televised congressional hearing in which Colin Powell shows “proof” of Saddam’s mobile biological weapons facilities (which turned out to be abandoned, rusting trucks); and a clip of Bush’s State of the Union address when he intones the noxious 16 words: “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Later, it’s made clear that the uranium is yellowcake from Niger.

Plame’s husband, ex-diplomat Joe Wilson (an excellent, much matured Sean Penn), had once been posted to Africa. Plame’s CIA superiors need concrete information about yellowcake for a report to the White House and the Pentagon; they recruit Joe to go to Niger undercover.

Once there, Wilson concludes that the logistics of shipping 500 tons of enriched yellowcake from Niger to Iraq would have attracted world-wide attention. Bottom line, no such purchase was made. But Cheney sends his stooge, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby (a shifty-eyed, bushy-browed David Andrews), to the CIA to coerce officials into massaging reports to track with the Bush administration’s yellowcake scenario. Bush soon announces that bombers are on their way to Iraq.

Watching film clips of the night bombing of Baghdad—smoke and flames against the darkened sky, hearing the thunderous roar of bombs, and building collapsing; civilians shouting, screaming, running for their lives, I couldn’t help contrast it with films showing the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The Baghdad bombing seemed enormous in comparison, which doesn’t minimize the Twin Tower horror. It has been recorded that from March to June 2003 to 2006, 151,000 Iraqi citizens were killed.

The Wilsons are outraged. In his article for the Washington Post, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” Joe Wilson basically called the Bush administration liars. Subsequently, in retaliation, New York Times journalist Robert Novak wrote a piece naming Plame as a CIA agent. The “outing” destroys her career and almost ends her marriage. She becomes persona non grata, a pariah.

Subsequently, the Wilsons sued the Bush administration. In 2007, hearings were held. A clip during the end credits shows Valerie Plame testifying against Libby. He was later charged and convicted of felonies unconnected to Novak’s unveiling of Plame, and sentenced to a couple of years in prison. Bush later commuted his sentence.

In “Fair Game,” Doug Liman and screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth depict the CIA as good guys and the Bush administration as bad. We who read alternative media and the internet know that the CIA is behind disappearances, the operation of notorious “Black Sites,” and the imprisonment and torture of alleged terror suspects without due process—all against international law. For decades since World War II, the CIA has been behind the toppling of foreign governments and other such atrocities.

However, this film’s message is about the importance of speaking truth to power at whatever cost.

> This article was originally published in the December 2010 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.

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