Fair Game

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?

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2 responses to “Fair Game

  1. Any generation that isn’t skeptical of the self-serving myths propagated by the Wilsons (via their books and, now, this film) clearly isn’t skeptical enough.

    Even if we ignore real-world history and focus on the movie itself, the movie gives us plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the Wilsons’ story. For example, the movie version of Joe Wilson claims that he was the source for the British intelligence which claimed that Saddam Hussein had tried to acquire yellowcake uranium. But why on earth should Wilson or anyone else make that assumption? Wilson went to Niger to check out a rumour, and all he found was that no sale had taken place* — but presumably the British intelligence in question could have been based on that original rumour and on their own attempts to follow it up, rather than on anything Wilson had done. (*As it happens, Wilson did, apparently, find evidence that Hussein had expressed an interest in acquiring some uranium from Niger, and he even mentioned that in his original report — though I don’t believe the movie ever spells that out.)

    It is also curious that the movie mentions Richard Armitage’s central role in this affair in the end titles, but never — not once — depicts Armitage as a character within the story or even as someone that we notice in the news footage. The attentive viewer might wonder what the filmmakers are hiding, there.

    Oh, and yes, the Wilsons did take part in a photo shoot for Vanity Fair — though again, you’d never know that from the film itself. Still, it’s funny how the film presents the offer as some sort of temptation to sell out and to put their personal celebrity ahead of the deeper issues at stake — especially given that the film’s very existence is, itself, an extension of that personal celebrity.

  2. If you don’t know about it, you’ll be very confused and won’t be as outraged as one should be. I followed the outraged as it played on the Cable News networks, in the papers and on line, that’s why I wanted more from the film but I’m glad it was made and I hope it tickles the curiosity of the naturally indifferent to awaken a truly patriotic sense of disgust.

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