Naomi Watts plays outed CIA agent Valerie Plame. (Summit Entertainment)
"Fair Game" is such a brutal and personal testimony to the consequences of dirty politics that it often feels too ugly to be true.
Unfortunately, it is, being an examination of one of the slimiest moments of George W. Bush's administration.
And of course the chief bad guy involved — Dick Cheney's right-hand man, Scooter Libby (a nicely oiled David Andrews) — served no prison time. W commuted his sentence.
Valerie Plame (played with intelligence and warmth by Naomi Watts) was a CIA agent trying to halt nuclear proliferation.
Her husband Joe Wilson (a ferociously harried Sean Penn) is a former U.S. ambassador and expert on Africa.
The CIA asked Joe to go to Africa and investigate whether some weapons-grade uranium was for sale, hoping to find a link to Iraq before invading. Wilson found nothing. Then Bush cited that non-existent uranium story while building a case for the invasion.
Wilson wrote an op-ed piece debunking Bush's "facts." And then the administration, in a pointless act of retaliation against a woman working on behalf of the U.S., leaked the fact that Plame was a CIA agent, thus putting her, and many of her contacts, as well as her operations, in danger.
Director Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity") lays this story out in such crisp tones that its power overwhelms its headline familiarity, and then he goes beyond the familiar, showing the damage it did to the couple's careers and marriage as they're demonized as traitors by a duped public and media.
Wilson goes on the warpath; the secret agent Plame prefers restraint.
Their marriage, their lives, are shattered all because a political schoolyard bully took affront when someone dared to speak the truth.