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Fact-based 'Fair Game' is a compelling thriller
'Fair Game'

Fact-based 'Fair Game' is a compelling thriller

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Naomi Watts, Sean Penn
Naomi Watts and Sean Penn in "Fair Game" (Summit Entertainment)

For a nation at war with its own values, "Fair Game" is a compelling, pertinent and scrupulously true political thriller in the honorable tradition of "All the President's Men."

Valerie Plame, smartly portrayed by Naomi Watts, was a CIA operative who specialized in defusing the nuclear ambitions of terrorists and rogue regimes. When President George W. Bush's administration said Iraq was stockpiling uranium from Africa, it didn't square with Plame's information. She suggested to her bosses that her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn), was qualified to investigate.

Wilson reported that the president's claims were false.

Soon thereafter, administration officials leaked Plame's secret identity, in order to undermine Wilson's credibility and to consolidate their case for war. But it also had the effects of ending Plame's career, endangering her contacts and emboldening arms traffickers throughout the world.

For some Americans, especially those desensitized to war or distracted by money problems, Plamegate and the subsequent conviction of vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby (devious David Andrews) are a business-as-usual snooze. But action director Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity") does an effective job of re-creating the preinvasion hysteria and dissecting its effects on a conscientious couple.

In staring down terrorists, Plame is a poker-faced, high-stakes gambler. But when her cover is blown and the propaganda machine goes into overdrive, informers she had promised to protect become collateral damage. And in the Wilsons' suburban D.C. neighborhood, they are branded as traitors and hounded by death threats.

Penn and Watts have starred in several films together, and here they make a believable married couple. Like the actor who portrays him, Wilson is an outspoken ex-surfer who wades into a national debate at great personal cost. He's also the melancholy caretaker to their twin kids while Plame is off making the world a safer place. The intersection of the political and the personal has rarely been so clearly marked.

The blind-siding of Valerie Plame wasn't fair and wasn't a game, but this cinematic outcome is a touchdown for true patriots.


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