Navigation Bar - Text Links at Bottom of Page

FAIR GAME

The Spy Who Was Left In The Cold
In late 2001, Valerie Plame was juggling two lives: her personal life as the wife of retired ambassador Joe Wilson and mother to their young twins, and her secret professional life running covert intelligence operations for the CIA. As leader of the agency's Joint Task Force on Iraq, Valerie was responsible for infiltrating Saddam's weapons programs at a crucial moment during the run-up to the Iraq war.

"Certainly it was a fascinating story from a political point of view,” says Fair Game producer Jerry Zucker. "But the more we heard from Valerie and Joe about the effect this had on their marriage, the more we realized that here was a deeply personal human drama.”

The Wilson's story played out very publicly. Dispatched by the U.S. government to Niger to confirm reports of a large purchase of uranium by the Iraqi government, Joe concluded that the rumors were unfounded, but his findings were ignored by the Bush administration. The former State Department official was no friend of Saddam Hussein. Joe was the last American diplomat to meet with the dictator after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and personally demanded the withdrawal of Iraqi forces. When Hussein threatened the lives of all foreigners living in Iraq, Joe faced him and rescued thousands of Americans before he left the country himself. Upon Joe's return home, President Bush called him a hero for his efforts.

But Joe, an inveterate truth teller, was outraged by the White House's decision to falsely cite the debunked uranium sale as proof that Iraq was currently on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. Shortly after he published an article refuting the claim in The New York Times, Valerie's identity as a covert officer was revealed. The Wilsons, their family, and scores of her associates were endangered. The unidentified source appeared to be a high-ranking Bush administration official. As the controversy ignited, the Wilsons received calls from everyone, including MSNBC's Chris Matthews who told Joe that Karl Rove had said Valerie Plame was "fair game.”

"You couldn't have made this up,” says producer Janet Zucker. After learning more about the Wilsons, the producers realized the story was a much deeper and layered one than the headlines told. Joe and Valerie were a couple whose lives had been turned upside down in the most wrenching personal terms.

Each reacted very differently to the campaign against them. Joe fired back with both barrels, alleging that exposing Valerie's covert identify was a criminal act. But after a lifetime in the shadows, Valerie was reluctant to go public. "Here was a woman who led a secret life for a long time,” says Jerry Zucker. "Her most intimate friends thought she was a venture capitalist. Suddenly she is thrust into the spotlight and revealed as a spy, forced to speak out publicly and defend her life. It was an incredible reversal.”

The Zuckers commissioned award-winning screenwriter Jez Butterworth and his brother John-Henry Butterworth to craft a screenplay inspired by the Wilsons' experiences. The Butterworths, who are British, had no idea who Valerie Plame was when they were contacted. "We also knew nothing at all about the U.S. political system, except for the most general knowledge,” says Jez. "But the story was so intriguing, we were eager to learn more about it.”

The screenwriters saw the potential cinematic gold in the characters and conflict in the story, recognizing that what happened to the Wilsons after Valerie was "outed” struck at the very heart of their family and their marriage. "I'm not sure I know how to write political scenes even though my political sympathies were with the Wilsons,” Jez says. "But characters I know.”

Yet when the Butterworths signed on to write the screenplay, they found themselves facing restrictions unlike any they had ever encountered before. Even Valerie's unpublished memoir was off limits to them until the CIA finished vetting it. "We first became interested in making Fair Game because we saw an opportunity to tell the story of two remarkable people at the center of a pivotal moment in history,” says Janet Zucker. "As we began developing the project, we discovered that conveying what happened to Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson was complicated by a number of factors, including the fact that much of the work Valerie did for the CIA remains classified.”

So although the filmmakers had the rights to Plame's book and her cooperation as a consultant on the movie; she could not reveal any information the government still considered to be secret. The writers resorted to conducting research on their own to help fill in the blanks. "We did an immense amount,” says Jez. "First about the U.S. government and the CIA, and then about the Wilsons themselves.”

"The research period was terrifically exciting,” adds John-Henry. "It was all very cloak and dagger. People were reluctant to talk about Valerie at first, especially when they heard we were researching a movie. In fact, we were registered at our hotel as construction executives.” Because of the vast amount of press coverage and speculation surrounding what became known as "the Plame affair,” firsthand accounts were crucial to the creative process. "The case was covered in the press like a football match,” John-Henry says. "Everyone took a side. We needed to know what actually happened.

"No one we encountered was very keen to be interviewed and everyone insisted that their remarks be kept off the record,” he continues. "But after the 2006 mid-term elections, the political atmosphere changed in Washington. People felt a lot freer to speak than they did earlier.”

The brothers interviewed scores of people, including former intelligence personnel, journalists, lawyers, congressmen and Wilson family firends. Along with Janet Zucker, they attended the trial of Vice President Dick Cheney's former Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter” Libby, the only government official to be charged in the Plame case. Eventually, they were allowed to read Valerie's memoir, but only after it had been released in heavily redacted form by CIA's Publications Review Board.

The more the Butterworths dug, the more confident they were that this was a story in which the personal surmounted the political. "When we saw the Wilsons at the time, we sensed at once that we were encountering a man and woman whose day-to-day existence had been turned inside out,” says Jez. "They were waging a battle for their lives.”

In order to tell this complex story in a two-hour movie and to make up for the lack of certain information that would never be released publicly, the Butterworths condensed time, fictionalized certain events, and created composite characters. "For example, Dr. Hassan and her physicist brother, who in the film provide Valerie with information on the Iraqi nuclear arms program, are fictional characters,” says Jerry Zucker. "They are meant to be representative of the types of intelligence sources that Valerie might have contacted in her work as a covert CIA officer.”

As the elements fell into place, the Zuckers brought the project to Bill Pohlad and his company, River Road Entertainment. River Road specializes in projects that blend groundbreaking creative objectives with commercial viability, including the Academy Award® winning Brokeback Mountain, A Prairie Home Companion, Into the Wild and Terrence Malick's upcoming The Tree of Life.

"I read the script and found it really compelling,” Pohlad says. "At River Road, we try to avoid things that a

Next Production Note Section

TOP

Home | Theaters | Video | TV

Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.
Contact CinemaReview.com

2014 37,  All Rights Reserved.

Google

Find:  HELP!

Google