High Crimes And Misdemeanors

11/12/2010 06:56 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Two trips to the theater this week reinforced to me why movies are important. Just as they have the power to delude us or lull us into fantasy, they also have the amazing capacity to offer truth in times of official misinformation.

"Client 9" is a documentary about the rise and fall of Eliot Spitzer, former attorney general and governor of New York, who resigned in March 2008 after being embroiled in a prostitution sex scandal. And "Fair Game" is all about the outing of former CIA operative Valerie Plame, in the weeks leading to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In "Client 9," director Alex Gibney offers compelling evidence that Spitzer's downfall was brought about by collusion between justice officials of the Bush administration and the many enemies he made as the so-called "sheriff of Wall Street." Spitzer insisted on prosecuting white collar criminals just as he would anyone else. Months before the stock market crash of September 2008 that would take the U.S. economy with it, Spitzer was digging deep into fraudulent financial dealings on a Wall Street that had become engorged with astronomical salaries and bonuses. That corruption would come to a head with arrest of Bernard Madoff, who last year would be sentenced to 150 years in prison for bilking investors out of billions, in a ponzi scheme. Spitzer's daring, hubris, and, many might say his arrogance, followed him to Albany, New York's state capital, where he tried to bring the same zeal to reform a bloated and inefficient bureaucracy. Many predicted that Spitzer was in line to be the country's first Jewish president.

His enemies included those he brought to justice, who gloated at his sudden and dramatic downfall. According to Gibney, they eagerly offered interviews for "Client 9." On camera is former chairman and CEO of AIG Maurice Greenberg, who in 2005 was asked by the board of AIG to resign after Spitzer began an investigation into fraudulent business activities at then the world's largest insurance company. There is Frank Bruno, longtime Majority Leader of the New York State Senate, who was convicted on federal corruption charges in 2009. "Client 9" interviews owners and employees of the Emperor's Club VIP escort service, which supplied Spitzer with prostitutes, which led to his downfall. Most revealing, Spitzer speaks on his behalf, just like the former prosecutor who wants the opportunity to state his own case before the people. The result is an absorbing tale that leaves no stone unturned. Spitzer, who now has his own show in CNN, gets more than a fair shake. Throughout the film, his story is cast in terms of biblical or Greek mythology of the mighty fallen. The result is a complex portrait of not only one powerful man but of a powerful city and its many characters, scenes and sounds.

Switch to "Fair Game," and I have to say that that film is easily a contender for picture of the year. In the world we live in, filled with political spin and outright lies masquerading as news, there is nothing like a does of history and fact to set us straight. The story of Valerie Plame, in the hands of director Doug Limon, turns out to be the most important political story of our time, as it involves lies and deceit at the highest levels of the U.S. government--lies about Iraq developing or owning WMDS, lies that ultimately took the United States into a one trillion dollar war that cost the lives of more than one million Iraqis and the lives of more than 4400 American troops.

What is compelling about the film is that it boils down this international debacle to the life of an American family--a husband and wife who love each other and their children. Sure, there are bit parts played by so many bit players, from Condoleeza Rice to Karl Rove to Scooter Libby, but ultimately "Fair Game" is about the strength of love and commitment to fight from Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador, and Plame, a CIA operative whose undercover status was blown by the White House.

It also, very powerfully, confronts lies with truth. For many of us the singular, strongest memory of the George W. Bush administration, aside from the obvious carnage and destruction, was a sense that we were living in an Orwellian state where truth was a lie and where lies were the truth. "Fair Game" reminds us of how lies were told with a bare face and with conviction. It reminds of the ruthlessness of the game--and of those playing it.

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