Snakes on the Plame: Previews of Upcoming Film Based on CIA Leak Case

By: Greg Mitchell Like everyone who covered extensively the CIA leak case, Judy Miller and the Scooter Libby trial, I am anxiously awaiting, with appropriate skepticism, the pending release of the first Hollywood treatment, which has the wonderful title, if you remember the scandal well, "Fair Game."

Casting seems swell: Naomi Watts as Valerie Plame and Sean Penn as Joe Wilson, for starters (among my favorite actors and reasonable lookalikes, to boot). Director: Doug Liman, who has helmed everything from "Swingers" to the first three "Bourne" films. He also has a tantalizing connection, being the son of former Iran-Contra attorney Arthur Liman (remember him?).

Very little has leaked out, so to speak, about the film, and the publlcity machine has hardly been beating any drums. It's based on the Plame memoir, of course. David Andrews plays Scooter Libby, but from cast lists online it appears that such famed media figures as Judy Miller, Tim Russert and Robert Novak may not appear as characters.

But now there are a couple of reports, including a review from one of those infamous "test screenings." Let's hope this film doesn't get sadly buried like the fictionalized Rod Lurie version, "Nothing But the Truth," inspired by the Judy Miller case.

First, let's go back five weeks to a posting by Liman at the popular blog which he directs, 30 Ninjas. It's gotten surprisingly little play. And I quote:

"I auctioned off a preview of Fair Game at a celebrity auction and got the funniest collection of people together to watch the movie. It wasn't your standard audience for a movie. Only six people attended the screening. Of those six, one was a contract employee of the CIA and one was Scooter Libby's appeals lawyer, Alan Dershowitz! It was kind of funny, given that we are trying to be as factual as possible on this film, and these are some of the people who can best judge how closely our film adheres to the facts.

"As much as it's obvious to me what the White House did, we don't show it in Fair Game if we don't have facts to support it. I think Oliver Stone takes a different tack, in which, if he believes something to be true, even if he doesn't have the facts to support it, he'll go ahead and put it in his movie as though it's fact. I know in my heart that Dick Cheney orchestrated this whole thing, but I don't know that for a fact, so I'm not going to say that in the film. I'm going to make this a strength of the movie. In Fair Game, when they take on the White House, it's scarier because you don't really know what's going on inside. Just as Spielberg lucked out in Jaws because his shark didn't work and he discovered that the less you saw it the scarier it was, we feel that the less you see of the workings of Cheney and Bush, the scarier they will be."

So it will be interesting to see if he successfully "shows" that Cheney was behind it all without really showing it--or perhaps it will fall flat. Stay tuned. Liman has said this is not an "art" film but aimed at a large audience.

Just this week arrived an anonymous review of the film from that test screening, which naturally must be taken with a grain of salt (for one thing, films are often changed after getting feedback at such events). But the attendee calls it "a tremendous, thought provoking film," a 9 on a scale of 10, with great performances by the leads.

As for plot: "We're led to believe that the order of the leak was made by Karl Rove to Scooter Libby (played by a hilariously serious David Andrews), and the rest is history. Plame's career is destroyed, her marriage (and life) nearly go along with it, and a major investigation into corruption in the Bush White House is launched, ultimately leading to the fall of Libby." More:

"The film clocked in at roughly 1:50, and paced tremendously well. There was a side-plot they spent a bit too much time on involving an Iraqi family and Plame's valiant efforts to save them from the invasion, but that was really the only downfall of the film. Watts is excellent, at least as good as she was in Eastern Promises, and Penn is as good here as I've seen him. It's directed by Doug Liman who did an excellent job of it, and I believe he also served as DP, so kudos to him as I often forgot the camera was even rolling. Truly a wonderful human drama with political suspense that should interest anybody no matter how they vote."

Interestingly, in an earlier blog post, Liman wrote about the new challenges, since he made "Bourne Identity," of people attending test screenings who then go out and blog about the unfinished film, perhaps putting its fate in the hands of some random 17-year-old.

He concluded, "There's no built-in audience that we're going to lose if some teenage boy blogs that it wasn't cool enough. In this case, just as the blogs could hurt us, they could help us. But at the end of the day, the people who finance movies would be much happier if there was a way for nobody to write about an unreleased film because the scary thing is that you just don't control what gets written. But 'buzz' aside, marketing aside, I'm still trying to make 'Fair Game' the best movie it can possibly be, and it's my judgment that learning from a live audience's reaction to the movie will help me do that."


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