Reviews

'Fair Game': I Gave My Word

When the Iraq war begins, Hammad and his family serve as briefly sketched emblems of its devastation.


Fair Game

Director: Doug Limon
Cast: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Noah Emmerich, Bruce McGill, Liraz Charchi, Khaled Nabawy, Sam Shepard
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-11-05 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer
Bush cannot even bring himself to acknowledge that Valerie was what is now universally known: a covert CIA operations officer. Bush's characterization is a pathetic euphemism: "Then it came out that Wilson's wife's position was classified."

-- Joe Wilson, "George Bush's Deception Points"

Late in Fair Game, Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) faces a daunting set of crises. She's lost her job, her friends feel betrayed, and she's fighting with her husband, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn). And so she does what so many women in such situations in the movies do: she goes home, that is, to her parents'. Here, predictably, her mother Diane (Polly Holliday) looks after her two young grandchildren, while Valerie's father follows her into the backyard. They try not to look at each other as she announces, "I think my marriage is over, dad."

Here it's enormously helpful that her dad is played by Sam Shepard, because anyone else uttering his lines would be hard-pressed to seem convincing. But when he says he's spent 25 years in the Air Force, well, you kind of believe him, since he's been Chuck Yeager, and when he complains that what the Bush administration has done -- to her family and the U.S. and Iraq too -- "was wrong, Val, it's just plain wrong," you believe that too. And so she resolves not to be angry at Joe anymore, but instead to join his fight against the administration, as unwinnable as it may seem. (This fictionalized film is now part of that fight, and the real life Plame and Wilson have been key figures in its promotion.)

While this plot turn is forgone, as Doug Liman's movie is based on the real life story of administration's efforts to quash Joe Wilson's allegation that it lied about Saddam's weapons program, it has a few ramifications for Fair Game. For one thing, it means that Shepard's work is done here, his remarkably weathered face and heroic bearing cast as a receding memory -- of a time when the U.S. government's conniving was less visible and fatuous. In Shepard's absence, it's Penn's Wilson who embodies -- in Valerie's eyes, and so yours -- a resilient and admirable faith that there is a difference between right and wrong, that ideology doesn't trump morality.

Valerie comes to see this, and so forgives her husband for writing "What I Didn't Find in Africa", the angry op-ed piece published in the New York Times on 6 July 2003. Within the film's logic, Plame now realizes that the chaos followed that publication was not in fact born in that moment, but instead had long permeated the structure of the CIA and other government agencies, as well as the media and political cultures that supported a war against Iraq, whether overtly or tacitly. Her revelation is represented in an emotionally affecting scene: the couple comes together in a darkened hallway in their home, literally between rooms, in a space that indicates their monumental transition. "I don't care what they say about us," she insists, "They do not get to take my marriage." To reinforce why that marriage is so precious, she tells Joe, their faces close, "You did good."

This good is in contrast, of course, to the enormous bad done by the government she so recently served. Fair Game underscores that effect not only in the trauma brought on Plame and Wilson, but also in scenes set in Iraq, where Iraqis are menaced not by collapsing relationships but the dire circumstances of "shock and awe." Here the primary figure is Hammad (Khaled Nabawy), a scientist recruited to help support a case against the Bushies' increasingly apparent lies. Valerie is instrumental in soliciting his information, traveling to Cleveland to persuade his sister, Dr. Zahraa (Liraz Charhi), to meet with him in Baghdad and bring back the data. When she pressures the doctor by citing civic and moral obligations, it appears that Valerie believes what she says, that perhaps she has even seen her work for the CIA, over all this time, as a function of that belief. You might also wonder, however, how much experience and inside knowledge she also represses in order to believe this: it is the CIA, after all. Shortly after this tense exchange, Valerie, back in the States, loses her position and so, her ability to remove Hammad from the war-zone-to-be. And it's that loss, that failure, that suddenly exposes to her the CIA's hypocrisy and deceit.

This point is pounded a bit by scenes of the Iraq war. When it begins, a moment introduced by the familiar footage of bombs over Baghdad on CNN, Hammad and his own family serve as briefly sketched emblems of its devastation. His children cry, the house shakes. "Your American friends are calling you right now," sneers a secret policeman come to harass him. Soon literally standing against a backdrop of explosions, Hammad is the representative victim of this onslaught of U.S. hubris and firepower.

Hammad's fate is not detailed on screen. Instead, you see Valerie's upset, her efforts to "get the family out," as she pleads with her former boss (Noah Emmerich). "We don't have the resources," he intones, dismissing her concern that, "I gave my word." Obviously, anyone's word means little in the constantly shifting moral landscape ordained by the United States. This tragedy looms over the scene when Wilson is advised not to make a fuss about the "16 words" in Bush's 2003 State of the Union address. Repeatedly, the film uses TV images to construct its drama (buildings blow up in Baghdad, Bush says, "Bring 'em on"), relying on Joe's reactions, assuming they stand in for yours.

This strategy is less than effective in the end, despite Penn's engaging performance, for it reiterates the problem Fair Game purports to expose. Again, slick media imagery shapes your thinking.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

9
Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane
Music

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".

Music

Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.

Music

Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.

Books

On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.

Music

Alt-pop's merci, mercy Warns We May "Fall Apart"

Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter, merci, mercy shares a video for her catchy, sophisticated anthem, "Fall Apart".

Film

Tears in Rain: 'Blade Runner' and Philip K. Dick's Legacy in Film

Blade Runner, and the work of Philip K. Dick, continues to find its way into our cinemas and minds. How did the visions of a paranoid loner become the most relevant science fiction of our time?

Music

London Indie-Poppers the Motive Impress on "You" (premiere)

Southwest London's the Motive concoct catchy, indie-pop earworms with breezy melodies, jangly guitars, and hooky riffs, as on their latest single "You".

Books

Vigdis Hjorth's 'Long Live the Post Horn!' Breathes Life into Bureaucratic Anxiety

Vigdis Hjorth's Long Live the Post Horn! is a study in existential torpor that, happily, does not induce the same condition in the reader.

Music

Konqistador and HanHan Team for Darkwave Hip-Hop on "Visaya"

Detroit-based electronic/industrial outfit, Konqistador team with Toronto hip-hopper HanHan for "Visaya", a song that blends darkwave and rap into an incendiary combination.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.