Doug Liman's Fair Game is both a compelling and an infuriating film, for a couple of reasons.
For starters, it's true - and yet the victims of this story have been almost forgotten. This is the story of CIA operative Valerie Plame and how she was outed by a vindictive Bush administration and then subjected to a smear campaign. But her story - misunderstood and misrepresented when it was happening - will have to fight to penetrate the public consciousness. The smear campaign against Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, continues and the right-wing noise machine blasts on at top volume.
This is the kind of film that should be mandatory viewing for anyone who is considering voting this week. Yet attempts are being made to discredit it - to essentially drag Plame and Wilson through the mud yet again.
Liman's film initially has the handheld feel of a documentary, along with strong, complicated performances by its central performers, Naomi Watts (as Plame) and Sean Penn (as Wilson). It keeps its focus tight - on Plame and Wilson - without wandering off into creating impersonations of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney, or straying into the media thicket of lies and liars, including the late columnist (calumnist?) Robert Novak (who outed Plame) and the former New York Times reporter Judith Miller (who went to jail for not telling what she knew, making her a false press martyr).
The story starts in the months between 9/11 and the start of the Iraq war in March 2003. Plame is seen developing intelligence sources during covert operations around the world, working as a CIA op to figure out just what Saddam Hussein has in the way of actual weapons of mass destruction.
The problem is that she and her colleagues are not coming up with much; all sources say that, while Saddam postures otherwise, he actually dismantled his nuclear weapons program years earlier, after the U.S. bombed the factories and facilities.
There's also a pesky rumor from Italian intelligence that Iraq is buying huge quantities of yellowcake uranium from the country of Niger. So one of Plame's CIA bosses asks her whether her husband, a former ambassador who has worked in Africa and Iraq, would go on a fact-finding mission to see whether those rumors have any truth.
He discovers that they don't - and Plame and her colleagues also tell the bullyboys from Cheney's office that the aluminum tubes they're touting as a component of uranium refinement are not made for that purpose.