Not all’s fair in love and war

Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and Joe Wilson (Sean Penn)

Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and Joe Wilson (Sean Penn)

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IF you were to ask former senior members of the Bush administration whether the identity of real-life CIA agent Valerie Plame was “fair game”, they would probably tell a different story to that of director Doug Liman.

The conspiracy drama surrounding the unmasking of a federal agent in 2003 was a hotly-debated topic in every opinion column of the American press when the scandal broke, with journalists chucking in their two cents at every opportunity and the Washington Post effectively killing a successful operative’s career.

Fair Game however gives a rather bland account of the events leading up to the moment Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, wrote a column denying the claims made by White House honchos that Sadaam Hussain bought uranium from contacts in Niger, allegedly for the purpose of building weapons of mass destruction.

The fallout of Wilson’s quest to tell the truth was astronomically destructive to both Plame’s private and professional life. It not only resulted in her becoming a CIA scapegoat but also suggests that operations mishandled after her dismissal led to the death of innocent informants.

But what initially looks and feels like a Bourne film is surprisingly boring in execution.

Naomi Watts plays Plame with cool authority, juggling high-profile operations crucial to national security and taking responsibility for endangered lives all across the Middle East.

Wilson (Sean Penn) on the other hand is anchorless, doing very little more than schmoozing with relevant ambassadors and taking the questionable decision to go up against the biggest authority in the United States.

In Liman’s version, the CIA is painted as all bark and no bite, emasculated by White House chiefs who stalk through the corridors demanding answers from supposedly powerful agents who bow to their demands.

For anyone with a passing interest in the politics of the last decade, there’s nothing groundbreaking about the rumours and suspicions surrounding the, some might say, imaginary catalyst for the Iraq invasion.

Fair Game is an altogether muted affair, never reaching the sense of urgency that the events should invoke: the worst we get is a marital spat and even that is brief.

The story is real but the feeling is badly handled – a shame given that Watts puts in a strong performance as a public servant badly wronged. Justice to Plame is not met in real life, nor in the film’s execution.