Of all the Iraq War-themed films that have come out since 2003, Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker is the best. But Doug Liman’s Fair Game is probably the second best.
A ripped-from-the-headlines thriller about the Valerie Plame-Joe Wilson-Scooter Libby spy drama (read here for a background on that), Fair Game recounts a curious real-life spy drama incident from America’s recent past. Starring an excellent Naomi Watts as the covert CIA spy Plame and a somewhat preachy (isn’t he always?) Sean Penn as Plame’s husband Joe Wilson, Game hits all the right notes as a taut, smart, well-acted political drama, even if it becomes awkwardly heavy-handed and didactic at the end (it is a Participant Production, after all).
Fair Game is about betrayal. It’s about the government (specifically the White House) betraying the protected secrecy of its own spies. But it’s also about betraying the trust of the American people, who were erroneously convinced of all sorts of false proofs of Iraq’s nuclear power in the lead-up to an inevitable invasion.
Watching this film, I couldn’t help but think that that moment in history, though not wholly unique in its corruption, was a pivotal point in the erosion of public trust in the government. If 9/11 was a moment of unprecedented unity and earnest goodwill in America, the years that followed quickly ushered in an unprecedented cynicism and jaded disgust not seen since the days of Watergate.
The Plame affair didn’t single-handedly turn an entire generation into skeptical cynics dubious of any “truthiness” claims. Years of political lies, advertising half-truths, ubiquitous media spin, defamed heroes and fallen idols had already made self-protecting irony the preferable approach for dealing with reality. But the events depicted in Fair Game certainly capture exactly the sorts of reasons why it’s hard to have faith in anyone or anything these days, politicians or otherwise. If the highest realms of authority in government aren’t subject to the very laws they’re sworn to uphold (such as, for example, not leaking the name of a covert spy in order to discredit a political enemy), how are we expected to trust anyone or anything?
The cynicism of my generation is lamentable and depressing, but totally understandable. I sometimes wonder if it’s even possible that we’ll be able to regain a sense of confidence or trust in our leaders/government/institutions. I think deep down, beneath all the cynicism and malaise, people really do want to trust again. You saw this in the way my generation so fervently embraced the idea of Obama–a visionary of hope untainted by political messiness.
Who or what can rise up from this sea of cynicism and disillusionment and truly command our respect? Who in government, if anyone, will we ever give our trust to again?