Charlie Wilson’s War

charliewilsonswar.jpg starring Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Roberts and Amy Adams
written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Mike Nichols
rated R for strong language, nudity/sexual content and some drug use.

It’s 1980, and Charlie Wilson (Hanks) is a hard-partying congressman from east Texas. He sits on several important committees and everyone owes him favors, mainly because his lack of pet causes has allowed him to do a lot of favors in the past. Joanne Herring (Roberts), a wealthy constituent from Houston, changes all of that when her passion for helping the people of Afghanistan fight off Soviet invaders leads Charlie to visit the massive refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan.

What he sees there affects him so deeply that he immediately commits all of his political capital to the cause. With the help of CIA operative Gust Avrakotos (Hoffman) and his colleagues on the Afghan desk, Charlie’s resources help wage a covert war in Afghanistan that ultimately funnels in $1 billion in American support and changes the course of history, for better or worse (or both).

What makes Charlie Wilson’s War so compelling is that it is based on a true story. It provides a fascinating glimpse into a side of government we rarely see, and casts light on a piece of recent history that most of America is probably unfamiliar with. What makes it so entertaining are great performances by Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Both are brilliant alone. Scenes between them are fantastic. I don’t normally do this, but one of my favorite scenes of the film is up on YouTube right now (profanity discreetly bleeped). This scene highlights both the strength of the lead performances and the sharp comedic elements of sly dialogue, volatile character interaction and gentle political cynicism that kept me laughing the whole way through:

Perhaps my chief complaint about the movie is that, at barely over an hour and a half in length, it feels a bit rushed. Most of the runtime is spent on character development and rising action (not that those are bad things), while most of what Wilson actually accomplished is consigned to a rather brief montage that slides through several years in just a few minutes. However, it succeeds where every preachy political thriller this year has failed by largely allowing the events it depicts to speak for themselves. It makes thought-provoking points about the nature of global politics without inserting sermons about them into the mouths of its characters, and, of course, it isn’t afraid to laugh at the whole business.

I’m a bit late in seeing and reviewing this movie. As I noted earlier, it’s been in wide release for weeks now. However, after finally seeing it, I really wanted to weigh in. I think it is a movie that a lot of people should see for the light it sheds on the realities of the world we live in today (a world which, make no mistake, our country has had a large role in shaping). However, many of the people that I would like to share the movie with would never sit through it thanks to a scene of rather prolonged and gratuitous nudity (though to be fair, while the level of nudity is gratuitous, the scene itself is not) and a high profanity count.

This is a real shame. Charlie Wilson’s War is a pretty good film. A laugh-out-loud comedy punctuated by some extremely somber moments and images (and capped by a positively-chilling coda), it the cinematic embodiment of the phrase “Life is a tragedy to those who feel and a comedy to those who think.” It manages to be both deeply cynical and touchingly idealistic about American politics, a delicate balance to maintain. Most important of all, though, it raises questions about the wisdom of employing “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” as a universal truth in foreign policy dealings that far too few of the movers and shakers in our government have been asking during the last six decades of our history.

~ by Jared on January 4, 2008.

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