I rarely watch films today, preferring some of the edgier fare offered by cable television series such as Justified, Nurse Jackie, Trueblood and Breaking Bad. Nonetheless, with my son visiting last evening, we sat down to watch Fair Game, a 2010 film starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn playing Valierie Plame and Joe Wilson respectively.
Many will recall that Joe Wilson is the former U.S. diplomat who, after being sent to Niger to determine whether it was selling 'yellowcake' uranium to Iraq as part of the latter's development of alleged weapons of mass destruction, definitively concluded that this wasn't occurring. He wrote a report to that effect, one that was promptly ignored by the Bush administration in its inexorable march toward war with Iraq.
When Wilson learned that the Bush administration was using the fictitious yellowcake sale as one of the major pretexts for invading Iraq, he wrote a piece for the New York Times entitled “What I Didn't Find in Africa”, concluding “that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat. “
It was at this point that the administration turned its full fury against Wilson by 'outing' his wife as a CIA operative, an illegal act for which the former adviser to Vice-President Dick Cheney, 'Scooter' Libbby, took the fall. (He was later quickly pardoned by George Bush.) However, the revelation about Plame's CIA employment was just the beginning of a campaign to discredit both of them.
The film relays the various stresses and strains their marriage suffered, almost to the point of dissolution thanks to the barrage of harassing calls, death threats, the destruction of Plame's CIA career, etc. As well, Wilson's consulting business suffered deep losses.
For me, Fair Game's greatest strength lies in its unromanticized celebration of the passionate pursuit of truth and justice embodied in Sean Penn's portrayal of Wilson, and the vindication that ultimately accrues to both Wilson and his wife. As well, there is a line in the film that resonated with me; Wilson is talking to a a group of young people, and he observes something to the effect that democracy isn't free; it requires hard work, vigilance, and citizen engagement.
If only we could take that lesson to heart.