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Review: "Fair Game" Is A Politically Correct Retelling Of "Plamegate"

this film publicity image released by Summit Entertainment, Naomi Watts, left, and Sean Penn are shown in a scene from, "Fair Game." (AP Photo/Summit Entertainment, Ken Regan)
this film publicity image released by Summit Entertainment, Naomi Watts, left, and Sean Penn are shown in a scene from, "Fair Game." (AP Photo/Summit Entertainment, Ken Regan)
Naomi Watts, left, and Sean Penn are shown in a scene from, "Fair Game." (AP Photo/Summit Entertainment, Ken Regan)

NEW YORK (CBS) Written by Jez  and John-Henry Butterworth and based on the books "The Politics of Truth" by Joseph Wilson and "Fair Game" by Valerie Plame Wilson, "Fair Truth" is a dramatization of the real life events surrounding the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame and her diplomat husband Joe Wilson.

PICTURES: Fall Films

Director Greg Liman reunites "21 Grams" co-stars Naomi Watts and Sean Penn to play the lead characters in a story full of espionage and intrigue that looks at the collateral damage created by an administration that turned against one of its own. The sense of outrage that ensued reverberated all the way to the White House.

Taking a point-of-view perspective, Liman paints a picture of massive betrayal on the part of the U.S. government during George W. Bush's tenure as president, at the expense of one of the CIA's most valued operatives. Valerie Plame (Watts) is a CIA intelligence officer charged with investigating weapons of mass destruction in the build-up to the Iraq war and someone who was instrumental in getting Iraqi scientists out of the country in exchange for valuable information.

Following a lead that Niger may be aiding Iraq's weapons program by making yellow cake uranium, the Bush administration sends Joe Wilson (Penn), Plame's husband and a former ambassador to Niger, to investigate. He finds there is no evidence whatsoever.

As is historically documented, that did not stop President Bush from asserting the existence of nuclear development on the part of Iraq during his State of the Union address. Enraged by the complete disregard for his findings in Niger, Wilson writes a scathing editorial to the New York Times, claiming the White House distorted intelligence reports to justify the invasion of Iraq. Thus begins a hellish ordeal for Plame and Wilson.

At the behest of 'Scooter' Libby (the assistant for national security to Vice President Dick Cheney),  Plame's identity is leaked to the press through Robert Novak, a columnist for the 'Chicago Sun-Times. Her cover blown, she is discharged from her position. This also puts all her active sources in the field at high risk.

Naomi Watts, in what may be her strongest performance to date, is striking in her portrayal of the outed agent , who finds her world  crashing down at the hands of the government she has served so faithfully. Liman does a fine job in allowing Watts to show the struggle of combining dual careers as undercover agent and Washington housewife and mother.

Sean Penn is impeccable as the zealous husband, who strives to clear his and his wife's name and save their seemingly already stressed and struggling marriage.

Liman knows Washington well, thanks to his father, who was a prosecutor during the Iran Contra scandal. He takes a matter-of-fact approach to telling Plame and Wilson's side of the story, taking few liberties, except when fictionalizing her encounter with an Iraqi scientist.

But where he fails is in his haphazard way of capturing his subjects. Perhaps intentional, trying to convey a sense of flux that follows an undercover operative always on the move, he flits from shot to shot, losing the intensity and urgency of some crucial scenes.

The final third of the movie takes a turn, dealing almost entirely with the unraveling of Plame and Wilson's marriage, leaving the audience to try to figure out where things stand legally between the couple and the administration that ruined them.

Not mentioned at all is the media's culpability in the leak; Libby's perjury and obstruction-of-justice conviction and the subsequent commutation of his sentence by President Bush, and the many obstacles put in front of the couple as they try to sue Dick Cheney and George Bush in civil court.

Most eerie of all, the director seems oblivious to the extent to which an administration will go to protect itsr own.