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Movie Review: 'Fair Game' takes hard-hitting look at Bush, Cheney and Iraq

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“Fair Game”

Directed by: Doug Liman
Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Sam Shepard, Noah Emmerich, Bruce McGill, David Andrews, Tim Griffin, Liraz Charhi, Khaled Nabawy
Rated: PG-13

I developed several interests/passions early in life that have stuck with me over the years. I got my first 45 rpm record, “Tom Dooley” by The Kingston Trio, in 1958 when I was five. That same year I saw my first movie (at a theater), “Auntie Mame,” starring Rosalind Russell.

I remember watching the JFK/Nixon debate in 1960. While obviously a 7-year-old had very little understanding of what exactly it all meant, I knew it was important.

In ensuing years, there was the Vietnam war, Kent State, Watergate, Iran-Contra, etc.

Doug Ligman's “Fair Game” is about a fairly recent political conflict - one that many people believe was improperly handled and that justice was never doled out to those (save one Judas Goat) involved. Liman based his film on books by two of the people most deeply affected by the affair, CIA agent Valerie Plame and her husband diplomat Joe Wilson. The tone of the film is definitely slanted to their side of the story, as I'm sure George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove will no doubt point out. But the facts are facts. Liman even uses news footage of George W. Bush explaining things.

Sean Penn plays Joe Wilson, a former ambassador now attempting to start his own business. At the suggestion of his wife, CIA operative Valerie Plame, he is sent to Niger by the Bush/Cheney administration to confirm their suspicions that Niger has sold yellow cake uranium to Iraq and that Saddam Hussein is just a step away from having nuclear weapons.

Plame herself runs operations in the Middle East and has a good number of contacts in Baghdad.

Neither she nor Wilson, in their respective snoopings, can find any evidence of a uranium sale or truth to the Bush/Cheney certainty that Hussein already has a great number of weapons of mass destruction.

When confronted with the findings of Plame and Wilson, rather than heed the gathered intelligence, the administration went full-steam ahead with their proclamations and - as you probably remember - took the U.S. into a war with Iraq. If memory serves, Mr. Cheney said, with all seriousness, that we would be greeted as liberators and the war would be over in a few weeks' time. He tragically miscalculated that one.

Plame remains relatively calm and maintains her cover. Only her husband and parents know she is actually a CIA agent, and she wants to keep it that way.

Things go awry when Wilson, who is a lot more incensed, writes an op-ed for “The New York Times” telling the world what he had found in Niger.

This doesn't sit well with Cheney, who instructs his chief of staff, Scooter Libby, to leak some pertinent information (true or not) to discredit Wilson.

Robert Novack, in a piece for “The Chicago Sun-Times,” reveals that Plame is a CIA agent and not long after that, many of her contacts in Iraq begin to lose their lives.

All of this part of the plot is well known to anyone who follows the news, but there's a sub-plot to “Fair Game” that makes the film work better than just an indictment of political underhandedness: Plame and Wilson's married life. Watts and Penn make it a compelling story; the pressures of dealing with such now high-profile public lives did indeed nearly destroy the couple's marriage.

Libby was the only person convicted of any crime in the affair, but his sentence was commuted by President Bush.

“Fair Game” will undoubtedly be polarizing. People on the far right will claim it's just more liberal propaganda, and those on the far left will take every word as gospel. The truth, no doubt, lies somewhere in between. But watching the best “spin machine” in recent history is interesting and somewhat chilling, considering the consequences.

Watching Watts and Penn inhabit their roles makes for a really good film experience. Whatever your politics, you'll at least find “Fair Game” to be well made and expertly acted.

The only scenes that feature some fairly bad acting, if you will, are the news clips.

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