Review: Charlie Wilson's War
Plot: Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is a womanizing, boozing Texas Congressmen whose concerns include ogling his young, all-female staff and doing just enough to get re-elected every few years. But when a news story about the war in Afghanistan catches his eye, Wilson soon finds himself working with a wealthy socialite (Julia Roberts) and a brash CIA agent (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) to single-handedly and secretly fund the Afghanis war against the Soviets, a course of action that eventually helped to end a little skirmish called the Cold War.
Review: CHARLIE WILSONS WAR had an impressive pedigree behind and in front of the camera, but the tone of the trailer (the one with the bizarre use of Don McLeans American Pie) was confusing, as was the awful poster. That one-sheet makes it look like the only war Wilson is involved in is fighting the urge to headbutt Julia Roberts. Or to pretend that a midget Phil Hoffman isnt giving him a creepy FATAL ATTRACTION stare. It definitely doesnt convey that CHARLIE WILSONS WAR is an intelligent, funny and all-around entertaining film about the United States historical involvement in the Middle East.
Thats right, I said funny; Tom Hanks is finally back doing comedy. (I dont count THE LADYKILLERS, and if you even mention THE TERMINAL we will have words. Outside.) Wilson is a fantastic role for Hanks; charming, intelligent and with a wicked sense of humor. The character also has a bit of a dark streak as well. The movie opens with Wilson naked in a hot tub with strippers, cocaine and a Playboy bunny. And yes, you see Forrest Gumps exposed posterior. While Hanks, and the audience, obviously has fun with the seemingly sleazy Wilson, he brings the emotion and pathos to the character when it counts. You really believe that deep down the guy wanted to help the people of Afghanistan, which makes a huge difference in how you leave the film.
Mike Nichols direction is confident, yet not showy and the few action scenes are surprisingly well-done. However, the movie entirely belongs to a fantastic script by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Sports Night). There were numerous places where CHARLIE WILSONS WAR couldve gone wrong, but Sorkin pulls it all together. For one, the tone works much better in the film than it does in the trailer, balancing a lighter satire feel with some serious dramatic moments, and even a few exciting action beatsa feat that shouldnt be surprising if youve seen any of Sorkins television work. The script also manages to be informative and entertaining at the same time, with the film covering a lot of material regarding politics, religion, foreign policy and history. Overall, it couldve used more of a climax, but nothing felt out of place or superfluous, and most of the movie gets by on just being damn funny.
Sorkins personal political beliefs arent really a secret (especially if you watched three or more minutes of his last television venture, Studio 60). The man easily couldve picked sides, especially with this topic, but he does well to avoid pointing fingers or overly politicizing things. This is just the story of Charlie Wilson, straight up. No soapbox preaching. And no watering down, thank God. The film does a good job openly explaining whats going on for the uninitiated, but aside from a few recognizable names (mentions of Rudy Guliani and John Murtha got a chuckle from the audience), a lot of the connections to our modern conflict and situation you have to make yourself. Its nice when a script has faith in the audience and, more importantly, doesnt talk down to them. I shudder to think what CHARLIE WILSONS WAR would be like had it been written by Paul Haggis. (Hmmm, we messed up in Afghanistan then and its a mess now. I figured out the connection! Give me an Oscar!)
Id be remiss if I didnt at least mention the rest of the cast. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is dynamite as a bitter, smartasshole spy, stealing so many scenes he should be arrested for grand larceny. Id say a Best Supporting Actor nod is pretty much a sure thing. Julia Roberts, back from her big screen break and looking an awful lot like Skeletor, is fine as the sixth wealthiest woman in Texas, but her role wasnt as big as I expected. Romantic longing between her character and Wilson was hinted at, but the script didnt really seem to care about it too much. (Neither did I.) Then theres Amy Adams, who does her best to give a bit of depth to Wilsons assistant, though I wish she had been given more to do. And not just because Adams is painfully cute; there were a few spots where you could tell there was more going on with her character, but it wasnt ever explored.
CHARLIE WILSONS WAR is probably not the powerhouse Oscar film Universal was hoping for (Hoffman and Sorkins script are probably the only sure things), but it was still a smart and enjoyable movie that handled its political subject matter with charm and wit, and made even more fascinating because it all really happened.
My Rating: 8/10
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