Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
Recommend this product?
Sean Penn stars as outspoken Democrat and former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was sent by the US Government to Niger to investigate whether they were selling nuclear material to Saddam Hussein (whom Wilson once famously confronted). He reported back that there was no such evidence, but the US Government ignored his findings and went to war anyway on the false claim. An incensed Wilson retaliated by publishing a NY Times article that outed him as a Government informant, but also the findings that he did not...erm...find. The Government’s response, mostly from VP chief-of-staff ‘Scooter’ Libby (David Andrews) and Karl Rove, was to employ dirty tactics by leaking to the press that Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame-Wilson was a CIA operative who was influential in getting Wilson the Niger gig in the first place as a kind of vacation. Thus, in order to save political face (or maybe just out of spite, really), a CIA operative, her family, her marriage, and the lives of her contacts in Abu Dhabi are all put in danger. Noah Emmerich, Michael Kelly, and Bruce McGill all play Plame’s superiors. Sam Shepard (who has now evolved into the new Charles Bickford) plays Valerie’s dad, whom she turns to when her marriage to Wilson gets rocky.
If you’re intimately familiar with the real-life case acted out in this 2010 Doug Liman (“Swingers”, “Go”) political drama, then you might very well like it. Well, so long as you’re not a Right-winger with their head in the sand. For me, I’d heard several of the names before, knew a bit about those WMDs that probably weren’t there (I’m not necessarily saying Bush deliberately ignored Intel, but surely we can now all agree the WMDs weren’t actually there), and I’ve seen the fictionalised version “Nothing But the Truth”, but that’s it. Now having seen this film, I’m possibly even more clueless. I’m sorry, but I was awash with a sea of names, faces, and minute details, and after a while I frankly got lost.
But y’know what? The film hadn’t engaged much of my interest anyway. In adopting an almost docudrama approach, Liman and his screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (the former having co-written “The Last Legion”), take the story of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson (and indeed, this is from their own memoirs), and focus on the least interesting aspects of the story. I understand that the stuff with Plame’s Abu Dhabi contacts was somewhat necessary to tell, but that, coupled with a bunch of boring political name-dropping and gasbagging resulted in not a very interesting time for me. I felt like I’d be better served watching a documentary on the case, because it’s only once Plame is ‘outed’ (about an hour into the film) that the film gets its juice. By then, it was a bit too late for me. This somewhat fact-based approach also robs the film of much emotional interest invested in the lead characters to the point where Watts as Plame remarks to her dad (Sam Shepard); ‘I think my marriage is over, Dad!’ and I was left sitting there wondering why. Based on what we see of their marriage, all I saw were different temperaments and possibly differing political attitudes. And that’s meant to be potentially marriage-ending? I mustn’t know too much about relationships, then (And I admit that I absolutely don’t), but I would’ve thought the time they had to spend apart due to work, would’ve been more of a strain if anything. Change the dry, information-heavy stylistic approach, balancing relationship drama with political intrigue, and focusing more on the post-outing of Plame would have benefited this film greatly. I also think that big names like Dick Cheney and Karl Rove get off extremely lightly here, as the film focuses more on Libby (played by the amazingly unimpressive David Andrews- surely a role begging to be played by a stalwart player of villainy?) and some lesser known players, which when you think about it is kinda how it worked out in real-life (Even Libby was somewhat saved by Dubya Bush who commuted his prison sentence).
At first glance, the role of outspoken Democrat Joe Wilson would seem like the role Sean Penn was born to play. And in a way, that holds true (Only Alec Baldwin would’ve been equally as well-cast), but the way Wilson is treated in this film does not work to Penn’s strengths. You keep waiting for Penn to full-on explode here, and there’s some of that, but for the most part Wilson is seen as an inactive stay at home dad. The film doesn’t seem much interested in Wilson, and Penn (whilst a bit overrated) deserves better. When given the chance here, he still shines, particularly in the second half, but this won’t stand as his most memorable work. Bruce McGill doesn’t have a huge role, but as usual, he’s damn good with what he’s given. The real standout is Naomi Watts, who in addition to perfecting her American accent and looking quite a bit like the real Plame, is really good here. Certainly she’s better than Vera Farmiga, who played her fictional counterpart in “Nothing But the Truth”. It’s definitely one of her best performances to date, no matter the quality of the film itself.
Somewhere in between this film and “Nothing But the Truth” (which framed the same basic story from the POV of a journalist who outed the Plame character and refused to reveal her source) is a solid film, but instead we get two average ones. Like I said, if you know about this case or are more interested in Iraq War politics than I am, you’ll probably really like this. Unless you think those WMDs really existed, of course (But then, why would you watch a film with Sean Penn? Hasn’t Hannity told you to boycott that lefty pinko?). I just found it pretty boring and useless, really. I mean, isn’t this what the TV and print news are for? Sorry, but CIA goings on in the Middle East don’t much interest me outside of the real-life news coverage.
Oh, and one more thing. Americans p*ss me off with their pronunciation of aluminium. Look at that word, people. There’s an extra ‘i’ in there and it ain’t silent. It’s called English, look into it sometime.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV