News addicts won’t resist imagining Judith Miller and Valerie Plame in this Washington film à clef about a journalist (Beckinsale) who exposes a CIA agent (Farmiga) and then goes to jail for refusing to reveal her source. Seeing Rod Lurie tell their story is both exhilarating and frustrating: So few movies dare to tackle intelligent, provocative, socially relevant topics in a mature framework that doesn’t condescend. But there’s a halfway point when the rush of watching the inner machinations of power players turns into the listless predictability of a TV courtroom drama, crossed with the voyeurism of a mild grindhouse prison movie.
Still, Lurie does maintain a pulse, if only for the feminist refrain that surfaces as each woman struggles to fight her respective system, both of which are tinged with nagging suspicions about female competence. The sexism, which to my memory never had a significant role in the reality of the situation (barring Scooter Libby’s oddly romantic note to Miller), plays well here as yet another tool to ratchet up the tension. Except, of course, when it doesn’t: The twist ending is the maudlin cherry on top that aims for profundity but ends up making the women’s travails even more superficial.