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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Fair Game' takes look at Plame affair

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Fair Game

(PG-13)

3 1/2 out of 4 stars

Shortly after the second war in Iraq began, studios started releasing one film right after another about it and every one of those movies was summarily ignored by the masses. Even "The Hurt Locker" -- last year's Best Picture winner -- performed dismally at the box office. Most of these movies were beyond poor, so audiences haven't really missed much. But "Fair Game" could change that trend.

The first thing you should know about "Fair Game" is that it is not a war movie, although everything that takes place in it would not have occurred if not for the Iraq War. It's about what happened when smart people told other not-so-smart people in power what they don't want to hear and the depths some stooped to in order to protect their political hides.

In 1917, anti-war U.S. Sen. Hiram Walker stated "the first casualty when it comes to war is the truth." Walker's prophetic declaration has rarely shown truer than it does in "Fair Game."

It starts with President George W. Bush's address to Congress and the nation stating that evidence of weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. The crucial bit of evidence Bush referred to was provided to the administration by former ambassador Joe Wilson (Sean Penn).

With minor input from Wilson's wife Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), the CIA sent Wilson to the African country of Niger to determine whether or not "yellow cake" (milled uranium ore) -- a component necessary to make nuclear weapons -- was being sold to Iraq. Wilson found no such evidence and stated so clearly in his report.

After he watched Bush's speech, Wilson wrote the essay, "What I Didn't Find in Iraq," which completely contradicted what Bush said and was published in the New York Times. Less than 48 hours later, prominent conservative Washington commentator Robert Novak wrote in his column that Plame was a covert CIA agent.

Everything contained in the previous paragraph is a matter of public record and has never been disputed by anyone. What followed was covered in detail in books by Plame and Wilson (as well as a scathing "Vanity Fair" expose) and even if only half of it is true, it makes the case for one of the most blatant and ill-advised abuses of power in U.S. history. The fact that it occurred to such a dedicated, apolitical and textbook patriot such as Plame made it all the worse.

In the hands of a less-competent director, this scorching material could have played out as reactionary, hysterical, knee-jerk indignation, but Doug Liman remains dispassionate throughout and spends little time on what we already know. Liman -- exhibiting the bare-knuckle economy of "The Bourne Identity" -- replaces action with the ever-escalating domestic turmoil Wilson and Plame endured after her outing. In an oddly ironic way, the production also parallels another Liman movie -- "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" -- but with only one half of a married couple harboring deadly secrets.

Liman's biggest achievement was in keeping Watts -- an ideal choice to play the beautiful and camera-ready Plame -- from the becoming a hot-babe/secret-agent parody. As stunning as she was -- and still is -- Plame was an agent who never relied on her looks to achieve her goals, but also wasn't above using them if the situation warranted. An early scene between Plame and a sexually aggressive Middle Eastern spoiled brat provides a prime example.

Most Americans -- as they should -- have no idea what was lost when Plame was thrown into forced, immediate and unwanted retirement. Plame is a rare breed. She and those like her keep this country safe and have absolutely no desire whatsoever to receive public recognition for it. Losing her because of an adolescent-level act of petty retribution is beyond sad and pathetic; it borders on outright treason. (Summit Entertainment)