All the President's Men captured the drama of two then unknown reporters — Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) — following the story of a break-in that ultimately pitted them against some of the most powerful people in the world, the Nixon administration. There are some strong parallels to the abuse of power and corruption of politics in Fair Game, but Doug Liman, who also directed The Bourne Identity, tunes the story and surrounding context to the pace and suspense of a wartime spy thriller.
The then little-known couple that found itself in the sights of the Bush administration are Joe Wilson, a former ambassador to African nations, and his wife Valerie Plame, a career covert CIA agent. Based on Wilson's book (The Politics of Truth), the film picks up the action in 2001 as the Bush administration set its sights on finding intelligence about Iraqi weapons to justify going to war with Saddam Hussein. In a stranger than fiction irony, Wilson was sent to Niger to investigate whether it had supplied a large amount of uranium to Iraq for the assembly of nuclear weapons. Wilson concluded the story was false, but President Bush later claimed in his State of the Union address (January 2003) that it was a known fact. With what were later shown to be a series of bogus intelligence finds, the administration took its case to the American public and the world. Wilson ignited a national political firestorm by publically challenging the administration's manipulation of intelligence data. In response, administration officials leaked Plame's top secret identity to the press, and an intense battle to discredit Plame and Wilson began, creating dramatic intrigue highlighting the politicization of intelligence agencies.
Sean Penn seems to relish playing Wilson, taking him from silent and supportive of his wife to exceedingly principled and ultimately bombastic and self-righteous. Naomi Watts ably handles a more nuanced performance as Plame, going from a courageous and confident agent to alienated and vilified public figure. The blowback and weight of confronting a presidential administration takes a toll on their marriage, and Wilson and Plame struggle with whether they are fighting to save their family or their reputations, and whether they are in fact fighting each other. Even winning such a battle can have a very high cost (although for some of the people compromised by the leak of her identity, there was an even higher cost). Fair Game heavily incorporates news footage to highlight the drama, and though it doesn't have the ominous and lasting impact of a film like All the President's Men, it shows how vicious and high stakes political infighting can be. But both films capture the outrageous nature of an administration's agents committing crimes against fellow Americans. — Will Coviello