A year ago while reviewing the political thriller Fair Game, Susan Green decided to go further than merely telling us whether it dealt fairly and accurately with the Valerie Plame controversy. She took us then with an apt precision inside the appeal of conspiracy thrillers and political conspiracy.
Yet, for those of us with more reasoned fears, it’s often difficult to separate paranoia from heightened consciousness. To quote Kurt Cobain, who must have borrowed it from Joseph Heller’sCatch 22: “Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.” That certainly is the case for Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame in Fair Game, a sympathetic biographical film tracing the D.C. couple’s nightmare at the hands of the vindictive Bush administration. Although unseen except in genuine news footage, the chief perpetrators are Karl Rove and the even more powerful Dick Cheney (On a Baghdad battlefield, this contemporary Richard III might plead: “A heart, a heart. My kingdom for a heart!”). But the Central Intelligence Agency — where Plame is an undercover operative until exposed for devious purposes — comes across as a bastion of back-stabbers.
The whole shebang begins when the CIA sends Wilson (remarkably lookalike Sean Penn), a former diplomat posted over the years to Iraq and five African countries, to Niger in 2002. The report on his mission indicates that Saddam Hussein has not been trying to purchase uranium yellowcake there, as purported. In challenging Dubya’s televised statement to the contrary, Wilson then invites a world of hurt by writing an op-ed piece for The New York Times four months after the preemptive 2003 invasion.
|Naomi Watts and Sean Penn in Fair Game|
|Oliver North testifying before Congress|
|John Negroponte in Honduras in 1984|
The reason for killing a president? He had threatened to dismantle the clandestine organization following the Bay of Pigs debacle in Cuba, apparently vowing to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds."
This legacy of so much nefarious behavior is my way of saying that Fair Game can be great fun for paranoiacs like me. Love the narrative. Admire the performances. Watts and Penn, together again! But, somehow, the thriller is missing the oomph of The Manchurian Candidate, All the President's Men,The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor or even John Carpenters’s aliens-walk-among-us They Live. Where Liman should blaze a trail through the ferocious facts, momentum slows. Although never boring, the action does drag every so often. Then again, as Shakespeare wrote exactly 400 years ago inThe Tempest, “Open-eyed conspiracy its time doth take.”
- originally published on December 1, 2010 in Critics at Large.