Tag Archives: Political Intrigue

How to Watch: “Fair Game”

Step 1: Set your jaw. Fair Game may make your jaw hurt from clenching your teeth as you watch the sheer audacity of the Bush Administration.

Step 2: Tell the story. The action focuses on Valerie Plame-Wilson (Naomi Watts) and her husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn). Valerie works diligently at her job as a CIA Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) counter-proliferation operative, while Joe, a former Iraqi Ambassador, runs his own consulting company. After 911, the Bush Administration rattles its sabers once again at Iraq, but they can’t quite pin down that one nagging piece of intelligence they so desperately need to go to war against Saddam Hussein: the evidence Hussein is building WMDs. The Vice President’s office asks the CIA to double check some discredited intelligence that, if it were credible, would give the U.S. a reason to invade Iraq.

Step 3: Tell the truth. The CIA, in turn, asks Valerie to bring in Joe, who has valuable experience and knowledge, and sends him on a pro bono trip to Africa to check out the lead. He determines that the intelligence is bogus; the existence of materials to make WMDs in Iraq are simply not there. Period. The White House chooses to ignore this, plus other clear information no nuclear threat exists, and goes ahead with the war plan anyway. The outspoken Joe can’t stomach the lies — especially when President Bush cites JOE’s findings as one of the reasons to attack Iraq in his speech to Congress — and writes a “liar, liar, pants on fire” op-ed piece for the New York Times, basically discounting much of the president’s speech and ruffling many feathers. The Vice President’s office, in retaliation, runs a smear campaign, outing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent and causing all sorts of issues for the Wilsons, both personally and professionally, as well as the real WMD counter-proliferation operations world wide. Who does that, honestly?

Step 4: Fight back. Director Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith ) masterfully crafts a film that shows the human costs of vindictive politicians and their minions. Plame is removed from all operations and booted from the CIA, her stellar career squashed to send a message to others at the agency to give the Administration what it wants… or else! Iraqi scientists are left to fend for themselves after they are given assurances by Plame that she would get them out before other countries kidnap them and force them to work on nuclear bombs. Joe immediately goes on the offensive, sitting down in front of whatever camera and on whatever show that will have him to tell the truth, while his wife resists, not wanting to betray the silence that is expected of her, that is expected of anyone who works in the intelligence biz. But when the Bush Administration finally pushes too far, and it becomes personal, and Plame joins her husband in pushing back.

Step 5: Validate. It doesn’t seem much of a stretch for Penn to portray Joe Wilson, compared to some of the roles he’s won Oscars for, but it’s still another brilliant character study to add to the actor’s repertoire. Penn as Joe represents the best part of being American: freedom of speech and standing up to those powers that be, even if can he a little too dedicated to the cause without seeing how it effects those around him. Watts, too, does a wonderful job as the more introverted yet highly skilled Valerie Plame. The actress plays Valerie with a fair amount of resentment towards her husband for creating the mess, but then ultimately respects him for sticking to his principals. The two actors have a very comfortable rapport, making the Wilsons’ relationship valid and genuine. Oscar nods could very well be forthcoming.

Step 6: Get pissed. Bottom line for me is Fair Game makes me mad at the Bush Administration all over again. While there was some small retribution in the Plame-Wilson case — The Prince of Darkness, er, I mean, Vice President Cheney’s lackey Scooter Libby was convicted of leaking the information about Valerie — it’s not enough. I can only hope that what goes around, comes around.

Level of difficulty in watching Fair Game: the only thing difficult is not being able to punch Bush and Cheney in the face.

How to Watch: “The Green Zone”

by Robert Sims, Special Contributor to TheMovieKit.com

Step 1: Remind yourself why we invaded Iraq. Oh, that’s right, Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Or so we were led to believe by the powers that be in D.C.

Step 2: Buy into the conspiracy theory. And that isn’t too hard to do considering we are still patiently waiting for someone to present us with irrefutable proof that Iraq possessed enough WMD to blow the United States to smithereens. United 93 director Paul Greengrass makes it clear from the very start of this frenetic Baghdad-set thriller that he believes the Bush administration mislead us about those WMD — or, worse, outright lied to us. Really? Were we were too blinded by fear in the years immediately following 9/11 to question the “evidence” GWB’s cronies presented as us as justification for invading Iraq? Regardless, when we first see the buffed, hardnosed Matt Damon in action, his Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller’s a little pissed that he and his men have survived a sniper’s attack only to discover the supposed site where WMD were manufactured and stored is empty. It’s the third time Miller has received bad intel from the same source, an Iraqi chemist codenamed “Magellan.” The moment Miller starts to question the veracity of the intel, he runs afoul of Magellan’s handler, Pentagon official Clark Poundstone (a suitably slimy Greg Kinnear). This pencil pusher will do anything to keep Magellan’s identity a secret, including setting the Special Forces (led by Harry Potter’s Jason Issacs) on Miller if he continues to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong.

Step 3: Stock up on your Dramamine. If you saw United 93, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, you already know what you are in for with Green Zone. Greengrass is not a director who knows how to keep his cameras still. Still, his penchant to shoot in a shaky documentary style not only lends the shadowy proceedings a vital sense of urgency but also really makes you feel you’re running down some dark and dangerous alleyway in Baghdad alongside Miller. With all the bullets flying and bombs exploding, it can be disorienting at times. But that’s the intended effect: you never quite know what to expect at every turn, which is the danger that Miller faces with every step he takes in an alien and inhospitable country. Greengrass rarely lets you catch your breath, but that doesn’t mean he wants you to switch off your brain. He sets his angry cat-and-mouse game between Miller and Poundstone against the real-life events chronicled in Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial in the Emerald City, which details the politically motivated policies that established the framework for today’s post-invasion Iraq. It’s impossible to watch scenes of U.S. government officials arrogantly plotting to install an Iraqi exile as a puppet leader without contemplating all the costly mistakes that were made in the months and years following the invasion and have force the U.S. military to remain there ever since. More important, Greengrass gets us to think about why we invaded Iraq in the first place. “The reasons we go to war always matter,” Miller tells Poundstone. Was Hussein an enemy of the United States? Yes? Did he pose a true threat to us? That question remains unanswered. But the last image of Iraq that Greengrass leaves us with makes it clear that he thinks it was all about the oil.

Step 4: Think of this as the fourth Bourne adventure. Greengrass walked away from a proposed Bourne sequel months ago. Damon’s already made it clear that he’s unlikely to return as Bourne. And, quite frankly, do we need another Bourne? Didn’t The Bourne Ultimatum wrap things up as neatly as possibly? Let’s face it Roy Miller is Jason Bourne without amnesia. He’s a one-man army out to correct a wrong, and he won’t stop until he gets his job done. And that means going rogue. Miller’s a little more naïve than Bourne—the CIA assassin would never say, “I thought we were all on the same side”—but he’s fully committed to revealing the truth behind the deception that pits him against the men who were once his allies. Plus, Damon wears the same “don’t mess with me” game face he wore in the Bourne films and possesses many of the deadly moves that his signature tough-guy character would use to remain a free man.

Level of difficulty in watching Green Zone: If you sat through Greengrass’ Bourne sequels, Green Zone won’t leave your head spinning all that much. But this smart political thriller will make you feel angry that we still do not know seven years on whether we had a legitimate reason to invade Iraq.

How to Watch: “State of Play”

Step 1: First and foremost, State of Play is a love letter to the now dying print/newspaper industry. Remember that and you’ll get the gist of the film.

Step 2: There is also some All the President’s Men political intrigue to add to the mix. Such as: Washington D.C. journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), after being assigned to report on what seems to be a random drug murder, stumbles upon something bigger – like, corporate cover-up-type bigger, which may or may not also involve Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), Cal’s former college roommate.

Step 3: Refer to Step 1 – Cal does things old school, but he ends up having to share leads with his newspaper’s online blogger Della Frye (the convincing Rachel McAdams, back in film from a short hiatus), who is investigating Collins’ scandalous affair with a recently murdered member of his staff. Connections? You bet.

Step 4: Pick out the best screenwriter. Although three writers (Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray) are credited with penning State of Play, which is based on the highly acclaimed 2003 BBC miniseries of the same name, there’s really one that stands out: Gilroy (Michael Clayton, Duplicity). All the plot’s twists and turns have the clever writer’s signature stamp.

Step 5: Find a good cast. Brad Pitt was originally attached to play McAffrey – until he dropped out four days before shooting was to begin. The quick fix was to get Russell Crowe. The film is the better for it since Crowe never does anything half ass. The always good Helen Mirren as the newspaper’s editor in chief delivers as well, while Jason Batemen is a breath of fresh air as a cog in the cover-up wheel. But double check some casting choices. Edward Norton was originally set to play Collins, but the job went to Affleck. Just not the same caliber.

Step 6: Get a director who’s passionate about his subject matter. The Last King of Scotland‘s helmer and former documentary filmmaker Kevin MacDonald is a journalist at heart (he went to school to become one), so it’s clear where his devotion lies in State of Play. Make to sure to pay attention to the end credits as we see the giant printing presses putting the newspaper to bed.

Level of difficulty in watching State of Play: Easy to Moderate. Just don’t nod off in the slow parts or you might miss something.