November 8, 2010

Fair Game

Friends called yesterday morning to ask if Mark and I would like to go to the movies early afternoon.  My knee-jerk reaction? I internally looked over my shoulder, thinking, “Who me?” Aren’t we supposed to be ferrying children around and fanning the fires at home? I just as quickly said, “Sure!” once I realized that we could actually meet up without a wrinkle.

We saw Fair Game, a film featuring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, which tells the story of outed CIA spy Valerie Plame and her ex-ambassador husband Joe Wilson.  The show manages to sustain a high level of drama, even when viewers are all-too familiar with the story.  Actors playing Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and Dick Cheney deliver intense performances as extra-creepy Bush Administration manipulators hell-bent on falsifying evidence to justify America’s invasion of Iraq.  And Sam Shepherd has a sweet cameo as Plame’s retired-military-man dad, a guy who urges his daughter to fight for what’s right.  Is it a great film? No, but worth seeing. Troubling, though, to imagine that anyone would be learning of this story for the first time via Hollywood rather than the news.

After the film, the four of us chatted about the take-home message.  We all expressed dismay that anyone could still harbor affection for the eight years that mired us in debt and dismantled civil rights. We two women — both of us moms coming to the brink of empty nesting — focused on Plame’s decision to have children — twins, even.  Plame’s domestic arrangements are as much a part of the story as her public battle to restore her reputation as a secret agent.  We suspected that her real-life decision to play out the fantasy of “wife, mother, spy” sold filmmakers on the tale as much as the political intrigue. Neither of us could imagine being CIA operatives with children, disappearing for stretches in dangerous places where pretty much no one drives carpool.

Later, I mentally smacked myself.  Has Plame allowed herself to be exploited yet again with this film? Would anyone have thought to read or watch her story if she hadn’t been a mother?  Would anyone have made the film if the outed spy had been…a father?  I wind up with the same old worn-out question: does anyone spend more than a split second asking whether male CIA operatives should have their careers and families, too?

My favorite part of the film, I decided, is the last bit, the one where editors cut from Naomi Watts to archival footage of the real Valerie Plame testifying before Congress.  Plame isn’t as pretty or thin as Watts.  But she speaks with power, conviction, and poise.  She doesn’t look like a mother or a spy.  She looks like a hero.