A year on, and looking at it with none of the festival hurly burly, the film emerges as an absorbing, unhysterical thriller that largely rejects the clichés of the genre. Based on the headline-grabbing Valerie Plame affair which played out between 2003 and 2007, it stars Naomi Watts and Sean Penn as a happily married bourgeois couple based in Washington: she is Plame,
a top-ranking CIA operative tasked with attaining intelligence to either support or reject the legitimacy of the US government’s argument for war in the Middle East; he is an ex-US diplomat sent to Niger to investigate claims that the country was selling yellowcake uranium to Saddam.
The film is split into two chapters: the first has the feel of a more urgent political thriller, as the pair undertake their respective fact-finding missions, while the second is more a bleary-eyed melodrama charting family breakdown as their findings are manipulated by the White House. The unshowy script by sibling writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth proposes that there is no such thing as fact, only context, an idea that would’ve been more penetrating were it shorn of the liberal hectoring that colours much of the dialogue.