When I watch political films based on facts, especially ones that occurred recently, I can’t help but get depressed by some of the things our government has done. Hollywood will over stylize everything, but the bottom line fact of the movie is that a White House official revealed the name of a CIA agent just to discredit her husband because he spoke the truth about the “evidence” the Bush administration had as far as WMD’s in Iraq. Now, we can launch into a political debate about the Iraq war and even the situation of Valerie Plame (the agent in question), but if you want facts about what happened, you should read her book ‘Fair Game’ or her husband’s book ‘The Politics of Truth’ by Joe Wilson. This is a movie review, not a political review.
If you read the NY Times in 2003-04, then you’re probably already familiar with the story of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson. The quick recap is that Plame was a CIA agent, assigned to validate the presence of WMD’s in Iraq and Wilson was a pseudo-political figure that was asked by the CIA to investigate the report of uranium being sold out of Niger. Plame found evidence there weren’t WMD’s in Iraq and Wilson disproved the sale of uranium, but the administration went to war anyway. When Wilson wrote an editorial in the NY Times to clear his name and rebuke President Bush’s State of the Union address, the White House retorted by revealing his wife’s identity as a CIA agent to the world.
As with most politically charged films, the challenge is to craft the story so that it’s interesting, understandable, but not too convoluted. That’s the struggle Liman faced here because there were a lot of things going on that led up to Plame’s name being leaked and without an explanation of those things, the impact of the leak would have been minimized. But even with that, I don’t think Liman clearly relayed to the audience the extent of how damaging and wrong it was for the White House to leak her name. That level of betrayal at such a high level reaches a level of horror that wasn’t clear in the film. Too much focus was on the impact it had on the Plame family and not enough on the treason within our own government. Those of us that know the story, know how horrible it is, but I don’t think people learning about it for the first time in this movie are going to grasp the gravity of the situation.
The performances were top notch and Liman did fine with his linear storytelling, but it could have been more intense than what it was. The issue of her informants in Iraq was kind of glossed over and if we had seen them get kidnapped and/or killed, it would have heightened the intensity and the drama of the situation. I would have also liked some more facts about this kind of situation as far as how many times it has happened and a deeper exploration into how Plame felt about being betrayed by her country. That was more interesting to me than her relationship with her husband, which tended to be at the forefront of the film.
Overall, this is a decent political thriller, especially if you’re not familiar with Plame’s case or the events that led up to it. This film should get to you after you’re done watching it, but I do encourage you to pick up the books and get a well rounded view of what really happened.