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CANNES, France (Reuters) - "Fair Game" tells the real-life story of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, focusing on how the scandal nearly cost a marriage, undermined friendships and endangered lives of people who had helped the United States.
Plame is played by Naomi Watts and Sean Penn takes on the role of her husband Joseph Wilson, whose criticism of the U.S. justification for war in Iraq in 2003 was swiftly followed by the leak of Plame's identity for which a White House official was investigated.
The movie, which was well received at a press screening at the Cannes film festival on Thursday despite a handful of boos, is directed by Doug Liman, who made "The Bourne Identity" and "Mr. & Mrs. Smith".
Plame, in Cannes for a nuclear proliferation documentary in which she featured, told Reuters earlier in the festival that she was glad to have her story told on the big screen. Fair Game is based on her memoirs of the same name.
"It's an accurate representation of what we went through and it tells the story hopefully as a cautionary tale to public officials who would seek to use their office for their own partisan agenda," she said.
The movie opens with Plame on an undercover operation in Malaysia, where she ensnares the nephew of a powerful businessman who is believed to have links to a terrorist group.
As the narrative unfolds, news footage from the U.S. air strikes on Afghanistan in 2001 and the increasingly vocal U.S. support for war on Iraq plays in the background, putting the movie into the context of actual events.
Plame's husband Wilson, a former diplomat and Africa expert, is sent by the CIA to Niger to find out whether it had a deal to ship uranium to Iraq for possible nuclear weapons manufacture.
As politicians ramp up the rhetoric, and, in the view of CIA officers portrayed in the movie, distort the truth to justify war, Wilson goes public with his opinions bringing the weight of Washington and much of the media on him and his family.
When Plame is outed, bemused friends call to ask if the reports are true, the media, politicians and commentators target the couple, they and their children receive threats, she loses her job and Wilson's career crumbles.
"I just found her so incredibly inspiring -- how she dealt with this massive change in her life," Watts told reporters ahead of the official world premiere later on Thursday.
"Not only was she betrayed, she was betraying others -- how she dealt with that, the repercussions were massive ... How many opportunities do we got as an actor to play women like Valerie Plame Wilson? It was a great opportunity for me."
Penn did not appear to promote the movie as expected.
Liman said the story was almost too good to be true.
"I almost forgot it was a true story and just fell in love with this world and these characters, and it was like a bonus that it happened to be true," Liman said of the screenplay, written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth.
As well as the personal turmoil, Fair Game shows how Plame's exposure endangered the lives of Iraqi scientists trying to flee Baghdad after the start of the invasion, after the CIA withdrew the help it had originally promised.
There was some justice for the couple when former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was convicted of lying and obstruction of justice in an investigation of the Plame leak. Former President George W. Bush commuted Libby's 2 1/2-year prison sentence.
Ultimately, State Department official Richard Armitage was found to be the source of the leak.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White and Tess Unsworth, editing by Paul Casciato