LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - For Valerie Plame, the CIA operative whose cover was blown by the Bush administration, the best part of a new film about the scandal may be that years of many complex twists and turns in her life are clearly revealed to Americans.
Her support contrasts to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg turning his back on the dramatization of his life in the recent box office hit “The Social Network.”
Hollywood filmmakers are famous for ignoring facts to dramatize a story in two hours or less, but Plame and her husband Joe Wilson seem happy with the condensed version of their tale of global espionage, Washington politics and White House scandal.
“We finally get the chance to say ‘Here’s the story’ and take away the lessons, as Joe talks about, of what it means to hold your government to account for words and deeds,” Plame told Reuters about the film “Fair Game”, opening on Friday in U.S. theaters.
“Joe” is former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose public challenge of the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq in 2003 led to a press leak about his wife’s covert identity, a firestorm of controversy and a criminal conviction of a key White House staff member.
“Fair Game” is based on Plame’s book of the same name and stars Naomi Watts as her and Oscar winner Sean Penn as Wilson, and the real-life couple relish the opportunity it brings to reinforce their sense of patriotism to movie audiences.
“The lesson I hope people take away from it is that if you wish for our Republic to remain strong, you as citizens have to be responsible and do your civic duty,” said Wilson.
The film’s makers, however, are less focused on the politics than they are the personal drama of what happened to Plame and Wilson and the impact it had on their marriage.
Moreover, “Fair Game” is no plodding political drama. It is fast-paced and full of suspense, hopping from Washington to Africa, the Middle East and back — what one might expect from filmmaker Doug Liman, who also directed action-filled thrillers “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. and Mrs Smith.”
Predictably, the Bush White House does not come off well.
Early in the film, veteran diplomat Wilson is dispatched by the U.S. government to Niger to investigate reports of a large purchase of uranium by the Iraqi government.
Wilson concludes no such deal took place, but the White House uses the debunked uranium sale as proof that Iraq is developing a nuclear weapon. An outraged Wilson writes an article refuting the claim in The New York Times.
Shortly thereafter, Plame’s covert identity is leaked to high-profile Washington journalists, ending her career and endangering informants in Iraq who had provided intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s weapons program.
The Wilsons’ private life is thrust into the center of Washington politics. Although the origin of the leak is unknown, MSNBC show host Chris Matthews told Wilson that Bush’s powerful adviser Karl Rove said Plame was “fair game.”
Only Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was indicted in connection with the investigation of Plame’s leaked identity. He was convicted, but Bush commuted the sentence before he served jail time.
“While it was the Bush administration, it could just as easily have been any other administration because the message is the abuse of power,” said Plame, whose book “Fair Game” was heavily redacted by the CIA due to classified information.
Wilson is more pointed in his criticism and hopes the movie will “clear up a lot of confusion that was deliberately sown by the administration,” which he accuses of “a several-year campaign of character assassination, and smear and fear.”
Penn nails Wilson’s intensity, and what Plame called “that sense of rage and you’re not going to get me without a fight.”
And what does Wilson see in Watts’ portrayal of his wife?
“Her inner strength, the strength of character and her ability to ensure with equanimity all this stuff that she had to put up with through this period,” he said. “I fall in love with my wife anew, every time I watch the movie.”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte