‘Fair Game’ aims to expose the facts behind outed spy Valerie Plame
By HOWARD GENSLER
Philadelphia Daily News
Tue, Nov. 2, 2010
DIRECTOR Doug Liman and star Naomi Watts are ready for the backlash.
In making “Fair Game” (opening Friday), and telling the story of former CIA agent Valerie Plame, they’re opening one of the sorest spots of the George W. Bush administration – the outing of a covert operative for political means.
For those who don’t remember, Plame’s husband, Joe Wilson, a former ambassador to Africa, was sent by the CIA to Niger to check out a story about uranium being shipped to Iraq. When Wilson returned saying the story was nonsense, his report contradicted the administration’s intelligence and desire to pin Iraq president Saddam Hussein with the development of weapons of mass destruction and topple Saddam’s regime.
Sensing a public relations problem over their primary reason for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, members of the White House staff changed the news narrative – outing Plame (a longtime undercover agent) and attempting to discredit her husband’s findings.
Plame and Wilson were pilloried as anti-American traitors, and Plame was further insulted by claims that her role at the CIA was little more than as a low-level functionary – which begged the question as to how she could send her husband to Africa.
In telling the controversial story, Liman (“The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”) takes the facts very seriously, knowing it’s likely to reopen partisan wounds.
“I’m hoping this film is the historical record” of the Plame case, he said recently in Manhattan. “I approached it with that level of seriousness and responsibility. My father [Arthur Liman] ran the investigation into Iran-Contra, so the fact that the Liman name is going on a movie that is a political investigation, I feel the pressure of my father’s reputation. There’s no conjecture in this movie. The scenes that we portray in the White House are the scenes that somebody in that scene testified to.”
Liman said he spent about two years researching “Fair Game” (that research also helped inspire the fictional USA TV series “Covert Affairs,” see sidebar) but he acknowledged, “It’s kind of ridiculous that it takes a Hollywood film to tell the complete Valerie Plame story and this isn’t a five-part series in the Washington Post.
“It probably can’t get worse than it got during the time period of this movie,” Liman said of the news media. “In order to get access, reporters basically had to print whatever they were told, and we lost a lot of the investigative journalists that I grew up reading. It’s a worrisome development that newspapers are having to cut back, because investigative journalism takes money.
“If ‘Fair Game’ is successful, it will encourage other filmmakers, and that will be a positive development for this country because we as filmmakers will step in to fill that void a little bit.”
” ‘Fair Game’ to me is a sort of logical extension of ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ and ‘Bourne Identity,’ ” Liman said, “and it’s the real version of those two movies. It has flavors from both, but this is what really happens in the household of a spy and what really happens in the field with spies.”
And that’s what attracted star Watts to the film – not politics.
“Of course this is a movie that’s set against political events,” Watts said, “but I didn’t take this movie to get on some soapbox. I’m here because I fell in love with Valerie’s character – a woman’s story that was deeply moving. That’s how I choose every character I play. But this is a reminder of what we went through, and it’s going to bring up a lot of anger and emotion and it’s going to upset people. But it’s meant to. It’s supposed to get under your skin.”
Watts said that one of the most interesting aspects of the story is how Plame and Wilson (played by Sean Penn) kept their home together while Valerie was undercover around the globe and how they kept their lives together when battling the most powerful government in the world.
“That was what was fascinating to me,” she said. “How did they deal with that plus all the emotion around it, the contrasting lifestyles? The fight was going on between Joe and Valerie at home and also Joe and Valerie and the White House. Her friends and family were upset with her for withholding the truth [they thought she had an administrative job at a local corporation]. She had it coming at her from every angle, and she also had to deal with speaking to the press, going from someone who lived in total secrecy to ‘Look at me and listen to me.’
“Being a covert officer, you go into it anticipating the exposure from foreign-intelligence agencies, so it was shocking to have that exposure come from her own government.”
But after meeting with Plame, Watts was taken by how composed the former spy was and how her training in playing different roles helped her manage her emotions during her ordeal. “She really did act with great calmness and dignity the entire way through,” Watts said, “and it is amazing how she managed to keep all her ducks in a row. She did not fall to pieces. . . . She had death threats and she had people trying to mess with her children.
“That was the only time she got angry.”