Review: Charlie Wilson's War
PLOT: What happens when a Texas Congressman, a socialite and a CIA agent attempt to supply the Afghans to defend themselves against the Soviets in a covert war? Well, quite simply, the end of the Cold War. When Charlie Wilson sees exactly what is going on in Afghanistan, he finds himself in the middle of a secret operation involving Soviet fire power and politics. Whatís a booze-loving, playboy supposed to do aside from make a little history.
When I made my way to see CHARLIE WILSONíS WAR, I didnít have much excitement built up. It seemed like it might just be a overly important political film that said much but felt empty. There have been several politically charged films recently that were bloated with their own importance. So how surprised am I that I really enjoyed this Aaron Sorkin written, Mike Nichols directed, tale of a covert war that lead to the end of the Soviet Union? Very. Iím not going to bother getting into politics with this review, because that is not what I am critiquing. There are many questions that could come from the outcome of what was started by the events displayed depending on who you ask, either Carter or Reagan. You could also wonder how much of what Charlie Wilson did, lead to what is happening in our current situation in Iraq. But these are questions much too deep for a simple movie review.
There is a surprising amount of humor for a film based on a true story, especially one involving Afghanistan and the Soviets. And credit should go to the wonderful script by Aaron Sorkin. His portrayal of Charlie Wilson as the womanizer who loves to drink is delightful. The dialogue is sharp and witty while never feeling false or pretentious. It offers up a smart satire on a very real situation that changed the course of history. Yet it is so cleverly crafted that it is never bogged down by that fact. It is sentimental when it needs to be and also thought provoking, and of course, very funny. It is a delightful change of pace to have an intelligent film based on true life politics that offers more than just your average, dull and humorless film
Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Phillip Seymour Hoffman have to be a dream cast for this kind of picture. And luckily, all of them are used incredibly well. Mr. Hanks (more about Roberts and Hoffman later) as Charlie is spot on with his take on the role. Whether he is discussing issues of a nativity scene that seems to be offending folks, or whether or not some Playboy model saw him doing cocaine at a party, he offers up a very real person without becoming a caricature. He is obviously obsessed with lovely ladies (good for him) and he enjoys a drink on several occasions. His office workers are all very attractive girls who not only look smoking hot, but they seem to be a great team to have on your side. Hanks Wilson drinks, he parties and he is looking for nothing more in life than being a Congressmen from Texas who likes to have a good time. That is until he finds himself fascinated and distraught over the atrocities being committed on the Afghan people by the Soviets.
I appreciate what Mike Nichols did here. He offers up a sharp and concise vision as we follow Charlie Wilson partying in a hot tub with a few naked chicks. While later on, we see him watching the poor and ravaged group of Afghans who are being brutalized. His direction never seems forced or over stylized. And the use of real life war and attacks offer up a stark vision which is polar opposite to the life Charlie leads. He never panders to the audience for sympathy. He only works with the satire within the script and uses his cast appropriately to bring tell the story. Yet at times, the deliberately lighter tone sometimes lessens the violence and horror that surrounds what is happening. I didnít feel as touched or heartbroken as I could have which may be due to the satirical structure. Donít get me wrong, I really appreciated that more humorous approach, but sometimes it lessens the impact.
The most impressive performance aside from Hanks, rests with Phillip Seymour Hoffman as CIA Agent Gust Avrakotos. I canít say I really dug the wig, but it felt real for the character. This is a dude who probably has a really bad comb-over and has tried and failed at Rogaine, so he now sports a bad wig. It worked, as did his entire performance. He completes a transformation, as Mr. Hoffman tends to do, and he felt completely accurate. His delivery and his timing are razor sharp. Both he and Mr. Hanks offer up some impressive scenes together and it makes for a very likable duo.
As for Julia Roberts, well, her character annoyed the hell out of me. But with that said, I also bought her in the role as well. She is a the sixth richest woman in Texas trying to raise money to help the Afghans. I hated her makeup, her pretentious attitude and the way she carried herself, but occasionally, I would remember I was watching Julia. It is still a fine performance that only feels pretend in a couple of spots. I also really dug Amy Adams as Charlieís assistant. She is smart and funny and has a nice cat fight moment with Juliaís Joanne Herring. In fact, the cast is strong all around, even down to ďCharlieís AngelsĒ, the ladies who work in Wilsonís office.
This is a fine contribution to Mike Nichols work. Lest we forget, this is the guy that brought us THE GRADUATE and CARNAL KNOWLEDGE. Both he and Sorkin bring out the best of the talent involved and make an entertaining film about a secret operation which made history. Thankfully, we are given the necessary information without feeling like a history class. It is funny and informative, although with that said, I wouldnít call this a masterpiece. It is a really good film that is worth checking out. My biggest complaint, and a surprising one at that, is the fact that it feels too short. Maybe there are moments they cut out for pacing, but at times I felt like I was missing a few important pieces of the puzzle. Itís not groundbreaking, like Nichols earlier work, but it proves he knows how to tell a good story with the right script. My rating 8/10 -- JimmyO