Wednesday, May 23 , 2018, 5:54 pm | Overcast 62º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Fair Game’

The story of former CIA agent Valerie Plame serves as a lesson on freedom and democracy

3 Stars — Thought-provoking

Sometimes truth is harder to believe than fiction. The real life story of Valerie Plame, a former CIA agent publicly exposed during the early days of the war against Iraq, unfolds like a James Bond movie. What unfolds in Fair Game is that the justification to use unbridled political power is a temptation that is kept in check only by a vigilant and involved public.

Plame (Naomi Watts) is the wife of Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), a diplomat during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Plame led a secret life — mother and career executive living a typical suburban life with her husband — and undercover, a secret operative who knew her way around the murky alleys of the Middle East. Regardless of her personal politics, she understood her role and performed it with cunning efficiency.

What became a very public event in 2003 was the leaking of her identity to the media, which ruined both her career and that of her husband and caused untold deaths to occur in the Middle East once she was exposed.

The outcome of the congressional investigations that followed, and the trials that then occurred, was that the leaks were identified as having come directly from the White House. Scooter Libby, special counsel to the president, was put on trial, convicted and fined $250,000. His sentence was subsequently pardoned by President George W. Bush, and he never had to endure going to prison.

Fair Game gives a gripping look at the hard-ball politics of Washington, D.C. In the days after the bombing of the World Trade Center on 9/11, the White House was intent on flushing out the terrorists in the Middle East, and in particular, exposing Saddam Hussein as the mastermind behind the development of weapons of mass destruction.

From what we now know from history, those weapons never existed. In 2002, though, a hard-core group of supporters around the White House believed so strongly in their existence that their judgment led them to justify any act as a necessity to protect the country.

The CIA, including Plame, was convinced that certain evidence being used to justify the war was not credible. When certain operatives within the White House disagreed with the CIA, they used their power to corroborate their assumptions by using information that had been obtained through diplomatic channels by Plame’s husband.

This information was shared during the president’s State of the Union address to Congress (clips of which are shown in the film). What led Libby and associates to take aim at Plame was their desire to punish her husband for ultimately writing a New York Times op-ed piece calling the White House to task for bending the truth.

Depending on your political point of view, Libby’s actions were or were not justified in a time of war. The fact ultimately was decided by a court that his actions were, in fact, illegal. The moral question is, when is it OK in protecting the greater good for the ends to justify the means?

The vast majority of Americans believe that we live in a constitutional republic that is governed by laws that are moral at their core. It is hard for most of us to believe that our government lives by a different set of standards than we do as citizens. Unfortunately, our history is replete with examples where we have fallen morally short, from the justification of slavery, to the judicial quagmire of prosecuting a woman for murder if she kills her child while in the womb, while at the same time protecting the right for the same woman to get an abortion during the same period of gestation.

People in power are supposed to protect our rights. What we too often see are too many examples of people in power thinking that they are above the law — even concocting all kinds of justifications for their personal exemption from the law.

The lesson of Fair Game is that our freedom is only guaranteed when we, the people, stay diligently involved. The greatest danger to our democracy is not from the Middle East, but from an uninformed and detached citizenry.


» 1. When we are at war with hidden terrorists, do you believe our government should have the right to set aside individual liberties? Why do you answer the way you do?

» 2. The balance of power that allows a court to prosecute an executive serving the president worked in this instance. The problem is that many lives were lost before this action could be taken. Do you see any other solutions?

» 3. The necessity of an informed citizenry is important if our democracy is to continue. Why do you think there are so many Americans who do not get involved in the political life of our nation?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit

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