Movie Review: Fair Game (2010)

Docudrama sticks harsh truth to power __ 9/10

Fair Game

Joe Wilson: The responsibility of a country is not in the hands of a privileged few. We are strong, and we are free from tyranny as long as each one of us remembers his or her duty as a citizen. Whether it’s to report a pothole at the top of your street or lies in a State of the Union address, speak out! Ask those questions. Demand that truth. Democracy is not a free ride. I’m here to tell you. But, this is where we live. And if we do our job, this is where our children will live. God bless America.

Directed by Doug Liman
Books Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame
Screenplay John-Henry Butterworth and
Jez Butterworth

Naomi Watts … Valerie Plame
Sean Penn … Joe Wilson
David Andrews … Scooter Libby
Bruce McGill … Jim Pavitt
Noah Emmerich … Bill
Ty Burrell … Fred

This one is sort of the ultimate Washington DC insider story, though revealing both the political machinations and the deep power drama between the White House and the CIA upper echelons and senior operational employees. Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) is definitely central senior operational staff (a premier agent assigned to the nuclear weapons and WMD nonproliferation function)… you will be amazed at the depth of her influence and skill in gathering key information from various people in the Mideast regarding Saddam Hussein’s alleged WMD programs in the years leading up to the US terror assault on Iraq, March 2003.

Naturally, as Fair Game is partly a drama, we need to take everything with a grain of skepticism, also factoring in the disinclination of the US security state to let us know too many exact details. But the movie is based on the books written by both Plame and her husband, former diplomat Joe Wilson (Sean Penn):

The broad outlines of the story have been validated by a number of conventional journalistic sources, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and many others. Essentially, the White House, in order to unleash the forces of hell on the Iraqi people for fun and profit, launched a huge promotional campaign to sell the world on the fact that Saddam had WMDs, specifically, he was on the verge of making nuclear weapons. Unsurprisingly, the mainstream media (MSM) boardrooms—long coopted by the Power—fell into lockstep sounding the alarm to the American people. Especially popularizing the story, supposedly via the British government, that Saddam “had sought significant quantities of uranium” (in the form of yellowcake) from Niger.

Problem was the sale of uranium, much less its delivery, to Iraq was false… as established by former diplomat Joe Wilson who was asked by the CIA to check out the story:

Joe Wilson: Niger has two uranium mines in the Sahara desert. One’s flooded. The other is run by COGEMA, a French subsidiary jointly controlled by the Japanese and Germans. Five hundred tons of yellowcake is not an off-the-books size transaction. It represents a 40 percent production increase in the nation’s annual output of uranium. A sale that size would leave a huge paper trail. Any documentation would, by law, have to be signed by the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and the Minister of Mines. But say it was an off-the-books deal. How do you hide the transportation of 500 tons of anything, let alone lightly-refined uranium. You’re talking 50 semi-tractor trucks on one road through villages where nothing passes for months except maybe one bush taxi. It would be the biggest event for months. To say they forgot is like kids forgetting Christmas.

So basically Wilson gives the lie to the whole White House premise that Saddam is seeking to build nuclear weapons. Further, as the movie indicates, the nonpolitical level of CIA analysts overwhelmingly deny White House (WH) operatives’—e.g. VP Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby—claims that aluminum tubes secretly purchased by Iraq were for making centrifuges in the enrichment process for turning uranium into weapons grade material. The film provides enough objective analytical point and counterpoint to convince me, anyway, that the WH was manufacturing a myth. And doing a piss poor job of it, at least in meetings that Plame was in. Clearly, the WH needed their war and it was desperate.

Showing that conflict between the WH and key senior personnel at the CIA is a particular virtue of Fair Game. In one scene, pertaining to the tubes and their use, we see a management-level CIA guy being very reluctant to buck the WH. Then you realize the general tendency of higher CIA management—Bruce McGill does a fine job playing deputy director of operations Jim Pavitt—going up the chain of command, to kowtow to whatever the emperor wants. A real problem for strong central hierarchies behind immense life-and-death, military power. “Who dares to stand for the truth when the Dictator requires lies?”

The deal, however, breaks down because Joe Wilson, always the teller of uncomfortable truths, no longer works for the government. He retired from the foreign service in 1998. He was only a contractor on his 2002 trip to Niger, so he drops a bombshell by writing a column in the New York Times, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” You can imagine Dick Cheney going apoplectic with another heart attack upon learning of the exposure; the VP in a simple meanspirited pique decides to ‘out’ Valerie Plame as a CIA agent. [Or that’s what the Wilsons and other critics claim: no one was convicted of revealing her identity (a serious felony), but Scooter Libby was convicted of ‘deceit’ offenses related to the government’s investigation.]

Apparently, Cheney, in a conversation following the Wilson New York Times column, called Valerie Plame ‘fair game,’ which is where the movie’s title originates. The film does an excellent job showing the deadly consequences to those cooperating with CIA agent Plame and to whom she was promising safe haven. Immediately upon her identity being flushed, she’s ejected from the CIA and all her cases aborted. The FOX-led media attacks on the Wilsons commence: she and her husband are reviled as enemies and traitors, and all her former friends at Langley pretend she doesn’t exist.

The movie excels in several areas: a) Watts is so exceptional and exact a replica of Valerie Plame that she puts on several pounds of junk in her trunk; she adopts the same measured and deliberate speaking patterns, b) Sean Penn conveys the aging revolutionary Joe Wilson to a tee; Wilson is a remarkable man, full of passion for justice and willing to stand up for his principles against all odds, c) Watts and Penn do a great job of revealing the life-and-relationship costs of their actions; they are in love and have the real relationship one would expect, and d) it makes you realize that innumerable honest, competent, and well-meaning people still exist within government and its lackey institutions—even the CIA; one can see that the problems stem not from good people SunFLOWerdoing their jobs, but from the machinations of a ‘rogue network’ of conspirators turning constitutional government toward the ends of the Power (Borg, Men of the Power Sickness). [Sadly, the rogue network has taken over the USG.]

Great acting, suspenseful, inspiring subjects fighting the Heavy Slimesters.

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