Valerie Plame (Watts) is a high-level CIA operative juggling teams in a variety of locations. In the wake of 9/11, her focus is on investigating Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons programme. Her husband, Joe Wilson (Penn), is the expert sent to Niger to investigate uranium rumours, but he finds no evidence.
And this is backed up by Valerie's discoveries from scientists in Iraq. So when Joe hears George W Bush lying in a State of the Union address, he writes a rebuttal. Enraged, Bush administration official Scooter Libby (Andrews) releases Valerie's identity.
From here the story escalates into a series of heated outbursts and claims that are muddied by a meddling press that doesn't cares less about the truth than about ratings and newspaper sales. The truth gets lost in the shuffle, and it's difficult not to get angry as government officials lie through their teeth, journalists take the wrong side and Joe and Valerie find their lives crashing down around them merely for daring to speak the truth.
But the film takes an extremely strident approach, slanting things both for dramatic and political effect. Even if we agree, it's far too heavy-handed, and by so clearly taking sides, the script badly undermines the story's strong personal elements. Watts and Penn both give beautifully complex, honest and involving performances, so we're on their side anyway. It's just that the filmmakers don't seem to trust the material to make the point without pushing it.
That said, the indignation is pretty infectious when events are so carefully laid out. Liman's filmmaking has an urgent, raw quality from the start, with realistic rough edges and an alert eye for detail. The best scenes are off-handed ones like a strained dinner party. But things are continually cranked up to generate suspense or melodrama where it isn't really needed. Much more effective is Shepard, as Valerie's dad, quietly consoling her: "What they did was wrong. Just plain wrong."
Run time: 108 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 16th December 2010
Box Office USA: $9.5M
Distributed by: Summit Entertainment
Production compaines: River Road Entertainment, Participant Media
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Fresh: 134 Rotten: 35
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Doug Liman
Screenwriter: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
Starring: Naomi Watts as Valerie Plame, Sean Penn as Joseph Wilson, Ty Burrell as Fred, Brooke Smith as Diana, Bruce McGill as Jim Pavitt, Anand Tiwari as Hafiz, Jessica Hecht as Sue, Norbert Leo Butz as Steve, Rebecca Rigg as Lisa, Thomas McCarthy as Jeff, Quinn Broggy as Trevor Wilson, Nicholas Sadler as CIA Tour Leader, Ashley Gerasimovich as Samantha Wilson, Michael Kelly as Jack, Noah Emmerich as Bill, David Denman as Dave
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