Feb 24, 2009

Tradecraft: Plame And Salt

Watts and Penn Play the Plame Game

Doug Liman has switched Antipodean actresses in his Valerie Plame movie: According to Variety, Naomi Watts and not Nicole Kidman (as previously reported) will be starring as outed CIA agent Valerie Plame in The Bourne Identity director's movie based on her story, Fair Game. (Wasn't that the title of a disposable Cindy Crawford action movie in the 90s?)Furthermore, newly-anointed Best Actor Sean Penn is in talks to come aboard as Plame's husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson. The trade reminds us: "Wilson watched his wife's CIA status become compromised after he wrote op-ed columns that accused the Bush Administration of manipulating intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq."

Penn is an excellent actor (who completely disappeared into the character of Harvey Milk in a wonderful performance... even though I was rooting for Mickey Rourke), but he is so instantly associated with his very public political stances that his casting instantly politicizes the film, which I think is too bad. By its very nature, the story instantly became a divisive political one, when at its heart its the stuff of classic spy fiction: an agent in the field is betrayed and compromised by her masters for reasons of petty bureaucracy that have nothing to do with her directly. John Le Carré could have made it up. But it's real, and it's a fascinating tale of a wronged spook, and I hope that Penn's casting doesn't alienate a potential segment of the audience for what should be a top-notch real-life spy movie. Then again, as I said to begin with, he's a fantastic actor and an Oscar winner, so hopefully none of that will matter. His presence probably does more good for the film than harm.

Chiwetel Joins Salt

First-rate British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is the latest to come aboard the Angelina Jolie (formerly Tom Cruise) spy thriller Salt, directed by Patriot Games' and The Quiet American's Phillip Noyce. He will play the Gerard to her Kimble, the Javert to her Jean Valjean. (Or, more appropriately, I suppose, The Operative to her Mal.) Variety puts it less obliquely: "Ejiofor will play Peabody, a young CIA agent who works for Winter (Liev Schreiber), the mentor of Evelyn Salt (Jolie), an agent fingered as a Russian sleeper spy. With Peabody in hot pursuit, she must clear her name and figure out the identity of the real spy." I think I know that identity...

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