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Hollywood in Baghdad: US spy thriller filmed partly in Iraq

The film crew of "Fair Game," a movie based on the Valerie Plame saga that will hit theaters next year, donned flak jackets and went to Baghdad in search of authenticity.

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent / July 31, 2009

Doug Liman (l.) filmed part of ‘Fair Game’ in Iraq. It follows the story of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame (r.).




Most movie directors and producers don't wear bulletproof vests when filming. But when the spy thriller "Fair Game" – starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn – hits theaters next year, it will have the added distinction of being the first Hollywood movie to have been shot partly in Baghdad.

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The film, by the director of "The Bourne Identity" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," is meant to be an entertaining and innovative spy movie rather than a faithful account of the episode in recent history it's based on – the unveiling of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity by Bush administration officials in one of the most controversial sagas of the Iraq war.

"This is a real spy story, and it hopefully will be as exciting and successful as 'Bourne' was – it is 100 percent real, and part of chasing that reality involved coming here to Baghdad and filming," said director Doug Liman after a day's filming in June.

A task that, from outside the country at least, appears easier said than done.

"Everyone we were working with told us not to come," says producer Avram Ludwig. Landing at the Baghdad airport on a commercial flight from Jordan, the pair happened to arrive with Americans headed for the US Embassy who were given a security briefing in which they were told of recent unexploded roadside bombs, issued helmets and body armor, and told they would be driven very, very fast on what has become a relatively safe road to the Green Zone. "And these people were archaeologists," says Mr. Ludwig.

Not just another film about Iraq war

But the pair did not come all this way to make another movie about the Iraq war, emphasizes Mr. Liman. Despite the political nature of Ms. Plame's story, the film – 95 percent of which was shot in the US – is intended to be entertainment with a twist. The Baghdad scenes will use special effects to help convey what it was like to live in Iraq during the US invasion and the anarchy that followed – something Liman says film can convey better than TV or newspapers.

The movie is based on Valerie Plame Wilson's memoir: "Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House." The Central Intelligence Agency department she worked for sent her husband, diplomat Joseph Wilson, to Niger in 2002 to investigate allegations that Saddam Hussein's regime was trying to buy uranium yellowcake there – a key assertion in President Bush's case for invading Iraq and derailing its alleged weapons of mass destruction as laid out in his 2003 State of the Union address.