One of the most cringeworthy ways to describe a film is to say it’s “Based on a true story.” Sure, there are many Oscar caliber movies based on real life events, but there are also the Saturday night movies on Lifetime.
Fair Game is about the so-called “Plame affair,” in which Valerie Plame was named as a CIA operative in an article by syndicated coulunist Robert Novak. Since many of you are familiar with the story, I won’t go into too many details. Even though it wasn’t deemed “Oscar worthy,” Fair Game is an excellent movie.
Nothing but the Truth is a movie loosely based on the Plame affair. Very loosely. The only similarities between the two films is that a CIA agent is outed. If you remember watching the actual story play out on cable news, you will recall that Judith Miller of the New York Times spent twelve weeks in jail for refusing to reveal the name of a source. Nothing but the Truth takes this part of the story and builds a film around it, and does it quite well.
The two films would make for an interesting double feature, in that they both deal with the issues of national security and freedom of the press. Nothing but the Truth is also about the right of a reporter to protect a source. These movies could also be shown in film schools as examples of different ways to tell a story.
Truth may be stranger than fiction, but that does not mean that Nothing but the Truth is the lesser film. By telling a fictional story, writer/director Rod Lurie wasn’t hamstrung by people saying, “That’s not how it happened;” he just used the Judith Miller story as a starting point, then went in his own direction. This meant that the actors, such as Vera Farmiga who played fictional CIA agent Erica Van Doren, could create characters, as opposed to trying to capture the essence of a real person.
The screenplay for Fair Game was written by Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth and is based on seperate books written by Plame and Wilson. Yeah, they each tell their own account. The film was directed by Doug Liman, who also served as cimematographer.
Fair Game often feels less like a political thriller, and more like a family drama, albeit a family in the midst of a smear campaign by the government and certain elements of the media. Naomi Watts and Sean Penn were well cast in the roles of Plame and Wilson.
Nothing but the Truth has it’s own share of family drama. When reporter Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale) is sent to jail, it puts a massive strain on her husband Ray, (David Schwimmer) who finds himself put into the position of raising their child alone.
The Van Dorens also have problems. Jamey Sheridan plays Oscar, husband of CIA agent Erica, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role. The two split up, and Oscar takes their daughter Allison with him.
Both Fair Game and Nothing but the Truth are excellent films, with near identical Rotten Tomatoes scores. It’s hard to chose between the two, but if I had to, I would go with Nothing but the Truth. My decision has less to do with the story, and more to do with Alan Alda, who plays First Amendment attorney Albert Burnside. He is the secret weapon of the film, and I feel he should have been nominated for an Academy Award.