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Jamie Stiehm

Jamie Stiehm

Posted: October 20, 2010 03:15 PM

Washington must write Hollywood a thank you note for bringing back the bad old days of the Plame affair in the new movie Fair Game. Finally, art has brought more truth to life in telling this hauntingly familiar tale of our times.

In a compelling portrait of the spy who lost her job, Naomi Watts plays Plame, opposite leading man Sean Penn, who nails the role of her intense husband, Joseph Wilson. In real life, Wilson is a former ambassador who became the gadfly of Washington when he challenged the truth of sixteen words in George W. Bush's State of the Union address. A gadfly in a good way. The televised clips of the president and his national security advisor Condoleezza Rice (oh yes, the smoking gun and the mushroom cloud) are just as evocative of memories as the Madeleine in Proust.

Remember? Wilson's op-ed in The New York Times seven years ago caused the wrath of the Bush White House to rain hard on his head. What Wilson knew from his government trip to Niger threatened to undermine part of the rationale for the march to war in Iraq. Once Wilson went into the public square, declaring he saw no evidence of uranium (or WMD material) in Niger, an African country he knew well, the long knives were out for his contradicting the carefully crafted words.

The way administration officials retaliated against Wilson was ruthlessly personal, they went after his wife and gave her name to at least one journalist. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, later took the fall in court. Once Plame's name appeared in black and white, her C.I.A. career was over in ten minutes. Noah Emmerich turns in a strong performance as her relentless boss. This is the most personally heartbreaking scene, because Plame loses everything and everyone she worked with in an only-in-Washington scenario. And she has her outspoken husband to thank -- or blame -- or what? It's a surreal dilemma, but she does not come across as a victim, for all the pain.

This movie does a public service in itself because Bush's wartime Washington was a lonely place to be a patriotic dissenter. Both Plame and Wilson were suddenly outside of the establishment mix. Their "loyalty" to the country they served was questioned and their careers were in flames and ashes. The toll this took on their marriage is presented in the movie in a straightforward manner, resisting easy formulas. Wilson remained out in front as a public critic of the Bush war policy, and, for a long time, Plame chose a more private way to deal with loss. Eventually, they each wrote a book about the experience, the stories on which the screenplay is based. Plame's testimony before Congress is a chance to speak her piece at last.

Hollywood likes a happy ending. Today, we know Plame and Wilson have gone on to another life in Santa Fe with their ten-year-old twins. Libby's sentence was commuted by Bush, though Cheney pressed for a more honorable pardon until the end of an eight-year winter in American history. Plame now advocates for nuclear non-proliferation.

The entertainment company Participant Media, a relative newcomer to making movies, brought this important social injustice story to the screen with great talent, finesse and insight. It has the makings of a modern tragedy, but the characters escape that fate. Thank you so much!

 

Follow Jamie Stiehm on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gypsyinme