Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Fair Game

posted by Nell Minow
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some language
Profanity:Some strong language
Alcohol/Drugs:Social drinking, smoking
Violence/Scariness:Tense scenes and dangerous situations, references to torture and murder
Diversity Issues:Diverse characters
Movie Release Date:November 5, 2010
DVD Release Date:March 29, 2011
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language
Profanity: Some strong language
Nudity/Sex: None
Alcohol/Drugs: Social drinking, smoking
Violence/Scariness: Tense scenes and dangerous situations, references to torture and murder
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Movie Release Date: November 5, 2010
DVD Release Date: March 29, 2011

It turns out that being a spy is not glamorous at all, especially when you are the mother of twins. Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) does not get to pick up a bunch of fun gadgets from Q or change from a wetsuit into a ball gown to crash a party at the palatial home of the bad guy. What she does do is a lot of tough, gritty research and a lot of painstaking relationship building with people who have every reason not to trust her. And sometimes she also had to threaten people who were pretty scary. And then come home and make dinner for her husband and children.

Her job at the CIA requires judgment, skill, courage, intelligence (in both senses of the word), loyalty, integrity, and the ability to keep a lot of secrets. While she had all of that, the people around her did not, and she found herself outed as a spy in the press, not for anything she did but because the government wanted to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson (Sean Penn). Suddenly she was out of a job but still not permitted to speak publicly, even to respond to the false and disparaging statements being made about her.


The problem was not that the White House made a mistake in thinking — and saying in the State of the Union address — that there was evidence that Iraq was making an effort to buy uranium from Africa to make nuclear weapons. The problem was that the White House made a mistake about how to respond when they were publicly contradicted. Former Ambassador Joe Wilson wrote an op-ed in the New York Times saying that he had been sent to Niger by the CIA to investigate this rumor and found no evidence of any such transaction, explaining the basis for his conclusion. Instead of responding on the substance, pointing to a better source of information, or accepting his conclusion and providing additional justification for concerns about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the White House decided to discredit Joe Wilson, which involved telling the press that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a spy.


Director Doug Liman (who was his own cinematographer here) can make a scene with two people across a desk as gripping as the action scenes in he gave us in “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” Based on the books by Plame and Wilson and on court transcripts and other records made available since the trial, he has given us their side of the story, with the leak of Plame’s role a weapon of mass destruction aimed at their reputations and their family. Because it is from their point of view, they are in almost every scene. That means we never see who is plotting against them or what the plot is; we just know that the most powerful men the world has ever known see them as “fair game,” or, even worse, as collateral damage. Liman, whose father was counsel in the Iran-Contra investigation, understands the culture of Washington well, the wonky dinner party debates, the show-boating, the passion, the long hours, the patriotism and the partisanship, the ends/means balancing act, and the way that sometimes everything boils down to a kind of middle school clique-ish brattiness.


Watts and Penn are outstanding, very compelling in the scenes about national security and even more so as what is going on affects their marriage. Penn lets us see that Wilson can be a bit of a blowhard and Watts lets us see that Plame knows that, can be frustrated by it, but loves him because she understands that it is a part of his passionate engagement with policy. Watts makes Plame a serious professional who achieves her objectives with preparation and diligence, though her being an exceptionally attractive woman made it easier to diminish and marginalize her, and she contributed to that by posing for Vanity Fair. The best surprise of the film is David Andrews as Scooter Libby, a wonderfully layered performance that shows us his mistrust of the career staff and his insecurity about the way they saw him. At the end of the day, you don’t need a Dr. Evil to be the bad guy. You just need a bully who thinks he can get away with it.

  • Joel

    The only problem with this story — and the fiction being spun by the moviemakers — is that the White House didn’t leak Plame’s identity. Richard Armitage of the State Department was the first one to divulge Plame’s identity.

  • Nell Minow

    The movie does not show the White House leaking Plame’s identity. When I spoke to the director, he told me that they showed the film to Scooter Libby’s lawyer, who was unable to find any inaccuracy and asked for no corrections except that the music made Libby look like a bad guy. I suppose we will never know the complete story, but Libby’s conviction on four counts after a trial has to make him “fair game” for the conclusion that he broke the law.

  • Alicia

    Sounds like an excellent film by all accounts, Nell. I still need to see “The Social Network” and “Red” before I see this, but it is definitely on my list.

  • Your NaStan

    Sorry, I cannot see this movie, as I will never again see a movie that has Sean Penn.

  • Shary

    I did not closely follow the Valerie Plame incident when it happened and therefore don’t know how well the movie adhered to the facts. However, I enjoyed this movie. I think both Penn and Watts did a good job of portraying the no-win situation in which Plame and Wilson found themselves. From the standpoint of a parent, I think this film would be over the heads of most middle schoolers.

  • John Chavez

    Movie Mom, I am quite disappointed you have revealed yourself to
    be bias. You have only given one side of this “true” story.

  • Nell Minow

    Mr. Chavez, the review clearly states that the movie tells the Wilson/Plame side of the story. While it is based on extensive research of court transcripts and other documents, the nature of the incidents means that many significant elements will not be made public for decades, if ever. If you look at my suggested questions you will see that I call on families to use this movie to discuss how we know what we think we know and which sources merit our trust. It seems as though you did not read what I wrote very carefully. I am not sure how my review supports your claim of bias, or which primary sources or direct experience with the people and issues involved you have to support your conclusion.

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