Who's In It: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn
The Basics: Here's a quick recent history lesson in case you weren't paying attention when it happened. Valerie Plame was a CIA agent during George W. Bush's administration. Her husband Joe Wilson is the former ambassador to Niger. She was sent to Iraq in 2001 to look for evidence of a nuclear program. She found none. He was sent to Niger to find out of they sold enriched uranium to Iraq. He found no deal. The Bush administration ignored their findings and reported the opposite as reasons to build up to war with Iraq. When Joe Wilson wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times about this, the administration retaliated by blowing Plame's cover as a CIA official. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby (who was, at the time, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff) was convicted of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI. Bush commuted Libby's prison sentence.
What's The Deal: If you watched the news while all this was going down, you don't really need to see this movie, but it's good that it exists. It's not just that it's a well-made adult drama about real events that, sadly, seem both unbelievable and too horrifyingly real, it's the kind of movie that will anger audiences whose memories extend past the last two years. They used to make these kinds of films a lot in the '70s and early '80s, stuff like All The President's Men, political dramas about corruption at the highest levels of power. I think they stopped because people just got too bummed out to watch them unless they involved aliens. It's a tough enough world without being confronted at the movies by the fact that people you vote for are constantly lying to you. Lesson number one million about why the government is not to be trusted makes the popcorn feel less buttery.
The Well-Oiled Machine Of Watts And Penn: This is their third movie together (after 21 Grams, The Assassination of Richard Nixon) so their ability to work off the other's presence makes it feel like they're both in it together instead of two showboating actors trying to out-emote each other. In fact, Watts is so controlled and slow-burning that she may be what helps keep Penn's tendency to agonize and shout in check. Most of the time, anyway. He still loves it when he gets the chance to grimace and yell, so...
Oops, Sorry, Spoke Too Soon: She doesn't totally keep him in line. The script gives Penn the chance to preach it up at the end, lecturing a group of students (and, by extension, the trapped moviegoers) about democracy and truth and the damaging effects of power and everything else this film's target audience already worries about obsessively. It's annoying when a movie thinks you haven't been paying attention for the first hundred minutes and feels the need to spell it out with a hammer in the last five, but what are you gonna do?