Today's movie was FAIR GAME, co-starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, 2010. Both excellent at acting, a great American story, directed by Doug Liman, who made the Bourne Identity, a well made high-speed spy story with Matt Damon. Bourne Identity was slick entertainment, while Fair Game is slick entertainment plus one hell of a true story, if anything having to do with the Bush administration could be called true. Sean Penn plays Joe Wilson, American diplomat with experience in the African country, Niger. Joe is an intelligent man. He's sent to find Saddam Hussein's aluminum pipes for making "weapons grade plutonium," or some such business. This was when Cheney and the gang were making up what was found, then telling CIA to find what they claim was found. None of it was found. Joe Wilson wrote an article for the NY Times explaining what he'd found of a Niger connection with Iraq, nothing.
He enraged the Gang of Four, Bush, Cheney, Rummy and Rice, who set out to destroy him Washington DC style---assassinate his character, it's legal, arrange it so he loses everything, foremost his reputation, his name as an honest man. His wife was a CIA operative. Karl Rove, propagandist for the Gang of Four, said, "Wilson's wife is fair game," which led to Scooter Libby being removed in a fake prison sentence he never served and Rove was threatened. It might have been the catalyst leading to Rove leaving DC not many months later. He can do the same job from Houston by email, fax and cell phone, probably skype and television monitors so he can talk face to face with his DC rogues. It took Joe Wilson striking back and refusing to stay down when knocked down. He knew what was up, figured out why without too much mental effort, and knew that he and Valerie would very soon end up dead and probably their children dead if they did not fight back. Valerie was afraid if they fought back they'd be killed. He said, We're dead if we don't.
I kept up with the progress of the story on NPR news when it was happening, cheering them on in their Quixotic battle of wits against the biggest and most ruthless power ever on earth. They knew what they were up against, a thousand times more than I do, and I have a good enough idea that I would hate to be the one pushed into the corner you come out from fighting like a cornered bear or not at all. Valerie in her maternal role was hesitant to come around to Joe's reasoning that fighting back was their only chance. When she reached her breaking point, when she broke and knew it, she joined the fight and they prevailed. I remember when she wrote her memoir of the experience, it had to go through CIA censorship, and she had the book published with the black deletions made by the censors, making it all the more a sharp stick in the eye.
At the end, I went to the menu and clicked on special features. The only thing there was the commentary by Joe and Valerie Wilson. That I wanted to see. Turned it on and watched the movie again, this time with Joe and Val talking about the experiences. They were impressed by how the film adhered to their experiences told with fair accuracy. They seemed most impressed by how Naomi Watts and Sean Penn depicted them. She noted a lot of Joe's characteristics Sean Penn copied. A time or two Joe in the movie said or did something uncharacteristic of Joe Wilson, but it was a made up scene to make an emphasis, esp for the emotionally charged atmosphere. They shed a lot of light on behind the scenes goings on, both in the original experience and during the film making. Joe noted several of Val's characteristics Naomi Watts portrayed. They both were happy to see that Sean Penn and Naomi Watts had a "chemistry" between them acting the roles, much like the chemistry between Joe and Val.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the film is to see that Sean Penn has matured into a great actor. Naomi Watts I've seen in other movies, and I remember every time, at a certain point I'm wondering what this actress's name is, I want to remember her. Naomi Watts. Not a name to stick in my head. Next time I looked her up, it was Naomi Watts. This time I saw Naomi Watts would be acting in it, I felt a big "thumbs up," and Sean Penn with her means it would be at least as good as Mystic River. And it was. I was enjoying watching this tour de force of experienced and very good actors, among the best in the world. Like Leo deCaprio's film Blood Diamond was a story about two different people, both of them equally. It was the story of each and both. That's how it was here in Fair Game. It was Joe's story as much as it was Valerie's. It showed what they both went through, individually and together. It was both their stories, equally. I think of Naomi Watts the equal in her art form with writer Barbara Kingsolver, and Sean Penn the equal of a visual artist like Frank Stella. I was happy to see the story rendered as accurately by a whole crew of artists as it was for the historical document that it is. Makes me want to read Valerie Plame's book. It's a powerful story.