Making the Grades
On July 14, 2003, Valerie Plame Wilson woke to find her name in a Washington Post article written by journalist Robert Novak—known among his colleagues as the Prince of Darkness. But worse than seeing her name in print was Novak’s revelation that she worked as an operative for the Central Intelligence Agency.
According to the script of Fair Game, Valerie and her family became the target of death threats and malicious scuttlebutt following the publication of the story. The unveiling also endangered the lives and caused the deaths of many foreigners who had put their trust in the American spy.
In this riveting political thriller, Naomi Watts stars as the blonde Washington D.C. resident who tells friends she works as a venture capitalist. Sean Penn plays her husband Joe Wilson, a former diplomat, who is privy to few details about his wife’s career responsibilities. At times, her unknown whereabouts and frequent travel to hostile countries strain their marriage and encroach on life with their twins Samantha and Trevor (Ashley Gerasimovich and Quinn Broggy).
But Valerie’s involvement with tracking weapons of mass destruction becomes increasingly vital and demanding as the Bush administration discusses aggressive options in the Middle East following the September 11 terrorist attack. With pressure growing in the Oval Office to do something, Chief of Staff to the Vice President, Scooter Libby (David Andrews), pays a personal visit to basement offices of the CIA where he grills analysts and other employees about the possibility of nuclear weapons. Snippets of that intelligence are shared with the nation in the President’s annual State of the Union address and used as reasons for an invasion. But Joe questions the administration’s justification for war and speaks out against the White House on The New York Times opinion page. Thats when Novak reacts in the Washington Post with his scathing rebuttal and revelation.
Grabbing at the sudden attention focused on his wife, Joe responds by taking to the airways to pummel the public with his political opinions and his family’s side of the story. Unfortunately his actions only further inflame the situation and finally drive Valerie to the home of her parents (Sam Shepard, Polly Holliday) where she questions her future.
While many of the details of this CIA agent’s career are still classified and have therefore had to be created by the scriptwriters, the movie does provide believable dialogue and circumstances that may well reflect her experiences. Both Watts and Penn also put in strong, compelling performances as a couple that are under attack from the media as well as powerful politicians.
Although some infrequent strong language (including two sexual expletives and derogatory anatomical and sexual terms) distract from the story, the filmmakers offer plenty of discussion starters for older teens and adults. Pitting one person’s perception against another’s and filtering it through the bias of the media, Fair Game demonstrates how difficult it can be to find the absolute truth in any situation. Add to that, the high stakes of politics, espionage and counter intelligence, and the chance of getting a fair shake becomes even less likely.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Fair Game.
How easy is it to determine the real truth of a situation? How does the media influence a story? How realistic is objectivity? How can a person determine the bias of a media outlet?
What drives Joe to use the media in his favor? How does it backfire on him? Is "yelling louder" ever the way to win an argument? Does the ability to outshout one’s opponent t make a person right?
What kinds of individual sacrifices are required of many civil servants and their families? Does the nation owe them anything for their service? Do you think the Wilson’s deserved the death threats they received?
How might this movie be different if it was told from the perspective of Scooter Libby?
This movie is based on Valerie Plame’s book, Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House. To learn more about this woman and her legal battles against Whitehouse officials, check out: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Valerie_Plame