“Fair Game,” the star-powered dramatization of a sorry low point for American democracy, is a decent film, but it’s also the latest in a somewhat alarming trend: one-sided accounts of true stories sold on film as the authoritative truth without the slightest bit of cinematic inquiry.

“Fair Game”

At the State Theater
Summit Entertainment

Based on the memoirs of Valerie Plame and her husband, “Fair Game” tells the story of Plame’s fall and the deluded political games that continue to drive our country today. Plame (Naomi Watts, “King Kong”) was a covert CIA operative, tasked with finding links between Saddam Hussein and nuclear weapons in the lead-up to the Iraq War. The only player to walk away without fault from the ensuing mess, Plame was essentially apolitical, interested only in doing her job well.

As she worked her contacts across the globe, the CIA sent her husband, retired diplomat Joe Wilson (Sean Penn, “Milk”), to Africa to investigate claims that Hussein was buying nuclear materials from Niger. The claims were entirely false, and Wilson said so in his report to the CIA. But that wasn’t the answer the White House wanted, and President Bush chose to ignore the CIA’s findings when he uttered the infamous “16 words” tying Hussein to nuclear weapons in his 2003 State of the Union address.

The fallout was spectacular and it continues today. Tens of thousands of people have died in a war that everyone now agrees was initiated under false premises. Wilson refused to let the lie go unchecked, exposing it in a 2003 op-ed in The New York Times. Administration officials (including, by some accounts, Vice President Cheney himself) fired back, leaking Plame’s secret identity as a CIA agent, thereby destroying her career and life.

The film runs through its motions at a frantic pace, carefully documenting each part of the Bush Administration’s greatest lie. But even those who agree with the film’s politics should admit that this production is almost entirely devoid of meaningful reflection or introspection — little more than a Keith Olbermann “Special Comment,” circa 2007. (And no, that’s not a compliment.)

The point is that we all get it: Bush lied, and what happened to Plame and Wilson was inexcusable. But to tell a story with such blanket political tone-deafness really detracts from the overall presentation. The film contributes nothing new to the conversation, but instead is an oversimplified creation that will be loved by Democrats and hated by Republicans.

Yes, there’s a fascinating true story here. But, as in other recent productions, (“Conviction” and “The Social Network” for example), there’s no hint of a filmmaker’s vision or creativity, just a straight regurgitation of source material penned by a biased player in the original story. Film has always been a popular medium for propaganda, but the fact that independent films suddenly lack independent thought is troubling — not least because it detracts from the quality and value of the productions themselves.

The fact that most critics have lavished high praise on this film (it currently has a rating of 81 on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, which is far above average) is even more troubling. The greatest lesson from the Plame affair and from the lies that led to the Iraq War was for the media: an independent and free press is one that always questions the official narrative and never blindly accepts what it’s told. How fitting that the media has forgotten that fact yet again as it heaps praise on a feeble, superficial depiction of great people and events.

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