Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place
of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place
of righteousness, wickedness was there as well. I
said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and
the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every
matter, and for every work. I said in my heart
with regard to human beings that God is testing
them to show that they are but animals.
See, the Lord’s hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.
Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue mutters wickedness.
Isaiah 58: 1-3
Director Doug Liman and screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth tell a highly politicized story, based on the books written by outed CIA agent Valerie Plame and her husband Ambassador Joe Wil son. The film’s title comes from a phrase that reporters attribute to political operative Karl Rove, that in the Bush Administration’s campaign to destroy the credibility of Ambassador Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), the latter’s wife Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) is “fair game,” even if she is a covert CIA agent. Wilson had incurred the wrath of Vice-President Cheney because the former had written an op-ed piece for the New York Times disputing the Administration’s claim that Saddam Hussein had purchased tons of yellow uranium from Niger to use in his nuclear weapons program.
The film will anger two groups of viewers—those who believe that the Bush administration manipulated CIA intelligence reports to justify declaring war on Iraq, and those who believe the Bush-Cheney claim that Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction are still out there waiting to be discovered. One thing seems clear from the first part of the film: the claim that Ms. Plame was “just” a CIA clerk or secretary, and that, therefore, “outing” her was of little consequence, is false. As a specialist in dealing with “counter-proliferation” (nuclear matters), she was in contact with a network of scientists and operatives in Iran and Iraq and contacts in cities, such as Cairo, Kuala Lumpur, Amman and, yes, even, Cleveland. (Because most information on her is still classified, the overseas scenes had to be fabricated, though the filmmakers state that these are based on witnesses with knowledge of her covert work.) Once their connection with her was discovered, many of them lost their lives.
Wilson had not known of his wife’s CIA work when they first dated because of her cover job, and their friends in the Washington suburb where they were raising their twin son and daughter thought of her just as a career mother. Wilson, the more combative of the two, clashed with his wife over writing his op-ed piece, even though both knew, from Cheney’s right hand man Scooter Libby’s (David Andrews) visits to the CIA, that the Administration was falsely claiming that a collection of captured aluminum tubes were part of Hussein’s nuclear weapons program, a program that Plame had discovered from her contacts in Iraq had been destroyed during the first Gulf War, the dictator deciding not to revive it.
Wilson’s pushing for a public battle against the Administration was resisted by his wife and even more, by her associates in the CIA, who saw the cause as hopeless. For a while it looks like the price of the fight will be their marriage, as well as their reputations and careers. Only after Plame moves with her children into her parents home where her father, a retired military officer, speaks with her about there being different ways of serving one’s country, does she decide to fight back.
The film is a worthy addition to the list of excellent whistle blower films (On the Waterfront; Silkwood; China Syndrome; and The Insider), depicting the drastic effects on their public and private lives. The price of bucking those in high power, from the days of the Hebrew prophets to today, has always been high, nothing less than the cross that Christ called his followers to pick up. The film depicts the courageous couple from their point of view: one wonders what a film championing Cheney and Libby might be like.
1. What did you feel at the end of the film? That the pair is, as charged, a self-seeking couple mad at the Bush Administration? Or, that a great miscarriage of justice has taken place? If the latter, how do you feel about the decision of President Obama not to pursue this matter and bring to justice any member of the former Administration? What are his reasons for this policy?
2. In what ways are whistle blowers similar to the ancient Hebrew prophets? (Note that their opponents are the powerful and/or the rich; the courage required; the attempt of many to silence them; their “cross.” )
3. Compare this film to the whistle blower films mentioned in the review.
4. For background information on the husband and wife see the Aug 21, 2003 article “The Wilson-Plame-Novak-Rove Blame Game” in http://www.factcheck.org/article337.html. You also might want to see a similar article at Snopes.com: http://www.snopes.com/politics/war/yellowcake.asp 5. Check out the rest of Isaiah 59 for passages relevant to the story.