A Fair Film, 17 March 2011
Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom
It is impossible to separate the artistic merits of this film from the politics. The core story is of a CIA agent whose husband exposes flaws in the Bush policy on Iraq but who suffers the consequences herself. It is anti – Bush, but tries a little too hard not to appear anti-patriotic by presenting itself as being pro core American values. Naomi Watts plays the CIA Agent Valerie Plame, Sean Penn her husband, ex diplomat and US Ambassador Joe Wilson. Plame is a field agent for whom duplicity comes with the job, ex- Ambassador Wilson’s job would have entailed him being a realpolitik expert. But what prompts Wilson to turn whistle-blower, with the inevitable disastrous consequences for his family, and why Plame acquiesces, is never adequately explained, despite this being based upon a true story.
The screenplay itself works well. Watts must have been delighted to win a lead ,serious role, and she excels with Sean Penn playing in secondary support. She convinces in her part , and the fieldwork scenes abroad are pacey and well staged. The dialogue is wry, sharp and authentic too. Ironically, the problem for the film comes when Wilson exposes the Governments misrepresentation of Iraq’s WMD programme. From that point on the drama doesn’t really work, when things should be speeding up. I found myself checking my watch on a film I was enjoying with 20 minutes to go.
The inevitability that the Presidential machine will win takes the sting out of this tale. We know that “the good guys” don’t win, and the consequences for Plame are hardly unexpected, so there is very little space for the story to move in. Wilson’s figure earnestly tries to compensate by making worthy declarations of truth, honour and justice and even summons the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt but the scenes look increasingly desperate. Director Doug Liman with credits in two of the “Bourne Trilogy” films is at home in Iraq, Cairo and Kuala Lumpur but simply does not have enough to work with in the final act.
That Saddam was a bad man and a destabilising influence in the Middle East is beyond reasonable doubt. That the French were right that the UN sanctions had worked and were working is an uncomfortable truth which the neo-con element of American politics has never faced up to. It is here that again the film falls short. There was a heavier blow to land – but it stops short of doing so. At some point popular US opinion will ask whether the sacrifice of so many young American servicemen and women were worth it – and a film will answer that question, but this is not that film.
Nonetheless, Watts will look back on this film as her best performance to date, and Penn will savour another finely nuanced role which questions the establishment. Although those with well tuned political antenna will be frustrated by some elements of the historical context of the story, those just seeking a straight forwards political thriller should be satisfied.