29 November 2010

Fair Game-- Telling the Truth


My wife and I saw 'Fair Game" on the weekend. It stars Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. They play the power couple in Washington DC, Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson. And they play the couple very well. As protagonists they are searingly convincing and we cheer for them from the outset.

One blogger writes "The true story of former CIA operative Valerie Plame and her husband retired diplomat Joesph C. Wilson is told in this thriller/melodrama based on Plame's book "Fair Game: My Life As A Spy, My Betrayal By The White House." Here is part of the review from Publishers Weekly, and I quote [...The problem with this book is that it has been heavily redacted by the CIA—and in parts is almost impossible to read.]" If only it were a true story. It is based on a true story, but there are some real problems.

Plame's status as a CIA agent was revealed by White House officials allegedly out to discredit her husband after he wrote a 2003 New York Times op-ed piece saying that the Bush administration had manipulated intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq. This false information about a uranium sale between Niger and Iraq is important because it was implied as factual when Bush was listing information about Iraq during his State of The Union Speech in early 2003. The setting is only a few years ago, and strangely we in Australia were not privy to much of this insider talk about spies and yellowcake uranium, about cylinders and the goings-on of then US Vice President Dick Cheney. The story makes for a good tale, but the unpacking of the story is tired in so many ways. The use of hand-held cameras that take us into the scenes in Niger (however it's pronounced) or into Baghdad are wearying and if you have good inner ear balance, may make you nauseous. It felt like Cloverfield, Taking LIves or Saving Private Ryan. My worst memory of this kind was Blair Witch Project.

OK, not a big deal, but I still didn't like it. The other thing, and the more bothersome item was the use of a "Hollywood add-on", a character whom we come to really like, and for whom we feel great empathy. This wasted, and fictional, subplot involving an Iraqi doctor (Israeli actress Liraz Charhi) who works with Plame to find out the extent of Iraq's nuclear program. This also concerns the doctor's physicist brother in Baghdad, played by Khaled Nabawy, who Plame promises will be safely relocated if he helps out in dobbing in other scientists who would know relevant data about the mission to create Weapons of Mass Destruction. (WMD)

The movie gets preachy so often; that part is tiresome, too. And at one point Wilson is seen lecturing from a lectern to a large group of students at a university. This was consummate preachiness.

We get Chief of Staff Scooter Libby (David Andrews) and Senior Advisor Karl Rove (Adam LeFevre) basically just being evil as they plot to discredit the heroic couple. There's a cameo by Sam Shepherd as Plame's wise father that's so badly shot that we can barely see it's him until halfway through the scene.

Now, all that said, I think it's a good flick in many ways and I am sure that Watts and/or Penn will be nominated for Oscars.
The Christian Science Monitor said in their review, "This is not to say that "Fair Game," directed by Doug Liman and written by the brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, is an outstanding piece of political moviemaking. Preachy, sketchy, disjunctive, and with a blistery, solarized sheen that makes it look microwaved rather than photographed, "Fair Game" is a movie that for the most part trades on the Wilsons' notoriety instead of delving into the heart of it."

Ouch.

But of note to me as I reflect on this movie is that fiction doesn't need to be interspersed with a documentary. I felt like I was being programed as if in a Michael Moore movie showing. "Washington DC is corrupt. Washington DC is corrupt. Washington DC is corrupt..." Is it? Honestly, are all politicians interested in their careers and only their careers? Is no one there 'for' the little guys? Does everyone in DC seek his own good? Please, now universal and corporate, but how ignorant.

Otherwise director Liman is declaring what the Bible says. And they wouldn't want that, would they? "There is no one who does good, no not one." (That's what the Good Book teaches.)

At the end we left wondering how much of the show was Hollywooded. (Pardon the verb). And how much of the tale, spun by screenwriters from the memoirs of both Plane and Wilson, is accurate anyway? What if she really did demand that he go to Niger? What if ...oh, so many 'what if's.'

The Monitor continued its attack on the flick with "At the same time, at the height of the scandal, Plame and Wilson posed together in Vanity Fair in their Jaguar convertible, she camouflaged in head scarf and dark glasses. This brazen gesture is barely touched on in the movie. If Liman had connected the couple in that photo with the indignant twosome of his film, he might have succeeded in creating more than a passable piece of politico grandstanding"

See, some facts are not facts at all. So when does propaganda begin? (Or am I being preachy?)

There was a scene when the fictitious doctor asks Plame how she can look people right in the eye and lie to them. I want to ask Liman the same question. And maybe Wilson and Plame. And maybe you. Do you lie? Do you want to understand and live in the truth, no matter the cost?

The phrase "fair game" in the title of Mrs. Wilson's memoir refers to a comment that Karl Rove, then the Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Strategic Planning under US President George W. Bush reportedly told Chris Matthews, the host of NBC's television show Hardball with Chris Matthews: "I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He says, and I quote, 'Wilson's wife is fair game.'

All that said, truth is worth everything. And truth is Fair Game. And lying is never easy to swallow. Whether it's from the White House, the Hollywood elite or from my neighbour. Let's speak truth to one another. Let's live in the cost of the truth. And pay it gladly. Life is so much easier to live when we tell the stark truth. Am I preaching? If it's truth, so be it!

1 comment:

thots on the go said...

Thanks Bob for the article. I'll catch the film when it comes to Singapore but meanwhile two quotes on truth by Einstein and Churchill.

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened. ~Winston Churchill

In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same. ~Albert Einstein