On Second Thought: “Fair Game”

A prime, unspoken, but obvious rule for any journalist is to make sure a written, or broadcast, piece is done responsibly. No matter the point of the story, there are bound to be consequences of some sort. Some are for the better and others are just ones with negative outcomes. While there are some pieces that could, and do, cause serious damage. Damage that can’t ever be undone, even after the truth of the mater has been exposed.

The Summit Entertainment film “Fair Game”, is an engaging thriller that seems too far out there to be based on true events.

This thriller stars Naomi Watts (upcoming “Shut In”, “Allegiant”), Sean Penn (“The Gunman”, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)”), Sam Shepard (upcoming “Midnight Special”, “Bloodline”), Noah Emmerich (“The Americans”, “Billions”), Michael Kelley (upcoming “Taboo”, “House of Cards”), Bruce McGill (“Rizzoli & Isles”, “Ride Along 2”), David Andrews (“NCIS”, “The Whispers”), Tim Griffin (upcoming projects “Central Intelligence”, “Aquarius”), Liraz Charhi (“Sabri Maranan”, “A Late Quartet”), and Khaled Nabawy (“Odd (Short 2013)”, “The Citizen”).

The film is directed by Doug Liman (“Edge of Tomorrow”, “Jumper”) and written by Jez Butterworth (“Spectre”, “Black Mass”) and John-Henry Butterworth (“Get On Up”, “Edge of Tomorrow”). It is based on the memoir “The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity: A Diplomat’s Memoir” by Joseph C. Wilson and the memoir “Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House” by Valerie Plame Wilson.

Continuing on this series, we come to the other side of the coin, which began with “Nothing But the Truth”. This particular film, unlike the previous film, is more in line with traditional biographical films, and the others seen so far in this series. It’s a retelling of actual events from a time that most now probably view as a very toxic time in American politics. The film deals with the real life outing of former CIA covert operative Valerie Plame, as she went by, and her and her husband’s attempt at holding those accountable as well as getting the truth out there. All because Wilson wrote an article for the New York Times criticizing the president.

The reason why this film’s included, let alone considered the other side of the same coin, is that it deals with the consequences of reckless journalism. It puts a solid face on the consequences of pursuing a story and what could be at stake if a journalist goes forward, in this case, with complete disregard for safety and law.

This film is certainly an interesting one. Since it’s directed by Liman, one would expect a film with a lot of action and tense set ups, but this film severely lacks that. It’s still a thriller, but not one in any traditional way you’d think. It’s also part of the reason this film works. The thrills didn’t need to be manufactured, as they’re there already. Even if you followed this story a little bit back then, or were somewhat aware of it, there’s still bound to be enough you didn’t know about and that could make the experience more intense. Or, if you’re like me, someone who knew next to nothing about this, it’s all going to be one surprise. Each turn will not be what’s expected, save for the fact Plame Wilson’s covert status was revealed. But all still helped to bring about an excellent film.

Helping to lead the way are the two lead performances from Watts and Penn. If these performances weren’t as strong as they were, the rest of the film wouldn’t work at all. Plus, you wouldn’t care. That’s what the writers and Liman did with this film. They got you to care. It wasn’t too difficult either. The film starts in 2001 and goes forward by jumping to key points, which also gives you a timeline so you can follow along. With so many moving pieces in this film, I was actually grateful. Also because I don’t have these key historical moments memorized.

You’re rightly introduced to both Watts and Penn’s characters at the same time, what each does and how they function as a family unit, as they’re not just portraying married people, but parents of two young children. It’s within this that you begin to know and care about them. This then allows you to pulled in emotionally when the shit hits the fan.

But before the shit hits, you get to spend some time with Watts’ Plame Wilson doing her job. She’s being a good and loyal American by gathering intelligence. It’s within this particular world that you see more of who she is. What drives her, and later why it hurts her so much when she’s betrayed. I see this necessary aspect of the story, as the reason you get such a full picture of the character and why this performance of Watts is one of my favorites. She has a lot to work with. Again, so many complexities to grapple with. She fights like hell for information to be believed, for assets and assignments to be seen through, and then just to get people to care like she does when her cover has been blown. Every bit is truly more intriguing than the last.

Penn’s Wilson has his own life, as he was an ambassador at one time, has himself cultivated a certain reputation. When we meet him he’s trying to get a business going, but at times too, take care of his kids. There’s a lot of times you see a kind of down to earth man and not just a working dad. You see some of this in Watts too, but less so as she’s gone for stretches at a time or works long hours at the office. So, like just about every other parent in the world. But it’s with this weaving in of the home life that brings about even more complexities and human drama. Penn delivers a great performance on all levels. He, like Watts are thrown into the chaos. Each just doing a job they’re qualified to do, and doing it for the country. That’s not good enough. The evidence and views must align with the current administration. Since that didn’t happen, time to attack. The emotional and personal journey he has to go through isn’t just to keep his business going, but to protect his name and the name of his wife. He wants the truth out there.

Penn’s Wilson wants to do press interviews, and Watt’s Plame Wilson can’t as she’s staying out of it per her duty to the agency. In part, this quest he’s on drives a wedge, after he’s done too much to try and save them all. His mission is truly admirable, and correct. In the film, when he’s trying to drive home a point about holding the White House accountable for the lies and not staying silent any longer, he says to her:

“Do I, does that make me right if I shout louder than you? If I shout louder than you am I right? If I’m the White House and I shout a million times louder than you, does that make me right? They lied Valerie, they lied. That’s the truth.”

As with any story, there’s still more personal drama to grapple with and it takes some time before Watts fully realizes what she must do. This constant back and forth gives Penn and Watts an incredible amount to work with. In all this, they’re truly victims, but must face down an incredibly powerful opponent. Before I forget, it’s not just Watts and Penn that turn in spectacularly work. The supporting players in this film each deliver good performances. You see how they all work together and create a certain environment at the CIA, but you also see how drastically and quickly things can change. The people Watts thought would be able to help when her names leaked are nowhere to be found. It’s not so much just distancing themselves, but about keeping their affiliation a secret. Another complex aspect in this film, which has already shown that nothing is certain.

Along with the insights to Watts’ Plame Wilson’s work at the CIA, we get a look at those that were no doubt affected in some by Plame Wilson’s reveal. The film allows for us to follow the lives of Watts’s assets. None of the time spent is too much, but that doesn’t matter so much as just understanding who else was affected by this whole thing. It also, in simpler terms, puts a human face to those who were not doubt in serious danger. Watts was after all trying to secure these assets and their families safe passage out of the dangerous countries they lived in. All in all, this film really nailed down the human drama needed to pull you in several different directions, both from a story perspective and emotionally.

Watching this, and knowing the truth, as happens with some bits of history portrayed in film, it just pissed me off so much. So much anger and disappointment was felt, which I seldom feel in films. Plame Wilson’s own government, my government, betrayed her and lead a crusade against her and her family to brand them liars. Then, the media piled on too, as well as the public and bloggers. Saying bloggers sounds weird, but they were around then. Maybe not as much as now, which is commonplace, but they apparently had a lot of influence. More than I’d ever thought possible. Look at the 2004 scandal involving Mary Mapes and CBS. The bloggers helped to single handily ruin her career as well as well known anchor Dan Rather. It’s appalling, even now.

Which is why after this film, coupled with “Nothing But the Truth”, I’m going back over, once again, what I believe. I understand both principles; protecting sources and the need to ensure national security interests are upheld, but at the end of the day, which one do I side with? They’re both right and vital. I know I said this was about reckless journalism, and it is, but what was committed by Robert Novak in his July 14, 2003 column, really goes beyond this. I guess it’s an extreme example of reckless journalism. This film is entertaining and continues to show why all the well known, or lesser known actors, are in such high profile projects. But it’s also how much damage can be done when a journalist publishes a story.

The real Plame Wilson said in a “60 Minutes” interview with Katie Couric, when asked about the ramifications would be for her name being revealed, “Well, it’s very serious. It puts in danger, if not shuts down, the operations that I had worked on.” She later said that she had heard about what had happened to people she had contact with, but couldn’t elaborate.

In total there were four people involved in the leaking of Plame Wilson’s status. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the vice president’s Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Karl Rove, and White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer. None of them faced the most serious of charges. However, Libby did find himself charged with multiple counts of perjury and obstruction of justice. He was later found guilty on all but one charge. None of that mattered, however, as then-President George W. Bush commuted  Libby’s sentence. Instead of having to serve the 30 month sentence, he only had to pay a $250,000 fine. Sometimes there’s really no true justice in the world. But, especially now, when you look back to Bush’s presidency, none of this is all that surprising. It truly fits with who he was as a leader.

The funny thing is, even after all the injustice done to Plame Wilson and her family, she never stopped following protocol. Even though she’d been outed, and rightly so had to quit her job, she followed procedure. According to the “60 Minutes” interview done with Couric, Plame Wilson had submitted her memoir manuscript to the CIA, as the rules dictated, and ended up with 10 percent of it redacted. If that’s not someone who’s loyal through and through, I don’t know what is. In some ways, I admire her for that. She could’ve chosen not to do so. Seeing as she did, I can say, too, that it certainly made for an interesting read. There were whole pages redacted, and sometimes the redactions began in the middle of a sentence. Still, the book was absolutely worth reading.

In many ways this film could easily be boiled down to one commons theme. A David and Goliath like tale, but one that played out in real life and on a national stage. That would be too simplistic. It’s far more complicated than that, and has many implications. So many people were affected by this, some for the better, and many not so much. I once again feel like I’m discovering the reason why film is so important. How many stories, like this or similar, would we not know about? How many courageous people would we have forgotten by now. This film may be entertaining, which is great from an audience perspective, but it makes you think too. There need to be more and more films like this so we can remind ourselves why we can’t just sit idly by and do nothing.

Exciting Trailer:


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