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Fair Game

Year: 2010
Production Co: River Road Entertainment
Director: Doug Liman
Producer: Doug Liman/Akiva Goldsman
Writer: Jez Butterworth/John-Henry Butterworth/Valerie Plame
Cast: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Rebecca Rigg

In 2003’s searing political thriller The Constant Gardener, hero Justin (Ralph Fiennes) meets a balding intelligence envoy in Africa who’s dying from lung cancer and so jaded by the corruption of Western governments he can hardly remember what he’s fighting for, telling him ‘you’re the closest thing this country has to James Bond.’

It was a beautifully telling moment that revealed everything we need to know about spies – they indeed exist, but instead of bedding hot Russian double agents and flying around the Caribbean in gyrocopters they’re aged diplomats or – like Fair Game ’s Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) – suburban wives and mothers.

In between bake sales and getting the kids to bed on time, CIA spook Valerie spends the weeks following September 11, 2001 visiting tense hotspots throughout the Middle East and working tenuous contacts to try and overturn evidence of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear or biological weapons programs. But Valerie and her employers have a much more dangerous enemy than Saudi zealots with Stanley knives or Iraq’s despotic dictator – the White House.

Until you see a few familiar names depicted on screen, you might not have any idea Fair Game is a true story. But Valerie Plame and her husband Joe Wilson (played in the film by political firebrand Sean Penn) were hung out to dry by the Bush administration for standing in the way of the invasion it desperately wanted to stage, even if it meant fabricating (or ignoring) evidence.

The Agency has often used former ambassador Joe because of his knowledge of Africa, and when the tip comes through that nuclear fissile material have been sourced in Niger, Valerie asks him to go underground to see what he can find out.

Joe comes back with a definitive conclusion – there’s been no yellowcake deal in Niger. At the same time, Valerie and the agency have slowly built a case that Iraq contains no weapons of mass destruction, but as history tells us, Bush, Cheney and their war cabal ignored the evidence and in March 2003 began laying waste to Iraq for the third time in two decades.

Enraged at the injustice, Joe publishes a very visible article damning the invasion and carpet bombs the media to tell the world there was no nuclear deal. The White House footsoldiers, led by sniveling Vice Presidential official Scooter Libby, gives Valerie up as a CIA agent in the press, and her and Joe’s lives turn into a nightmare.

Valerie wants nothing more than to keep their heads down and protect each other and their children. Joe – mostly against her wishes – is determined to stand up and fight for what’s right no matter the cost.

So the political thriller turns into a touching human drama as Valerie and Joe’s marriage starts to unravel, and Watts and Penn are good enough to make you feel every pang of despair and fear as they suffer everything from media harassment to death threats.

Adapted from Plame’s book of the same name, the film has an assured grasp of the machinations of big politics and Bourne Ultimatum/ Mr and Mrs Smith director Doug Liman uses handheld to heighten the sense of desperate urgency. It’s played very realistically and though none of us need reminding how corrupt and unaccountable US policy has been during the last decade, it’s gripping seeing it bought to life with such authenticity.

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