Charlie Wilson’s War is a witty, deft, solid-all-around, satirical political comedy with a stellar cast. Credit screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, whose whip-smart script adapted from the book by George Crile is tightly written, humorous, and unlike several other war films this year, it puts entertainment over message. Rather than preach, the film inspires us by showing what Charlie Wilson did in a creative and entertaining manner. Director Mike Nichols, who made a similar satirical political film ten years ago called Primary Colors, has made one of his more entertaining pictures.
The film is about the titular Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), an affable Congressman who became an unlikely, plucky world-changer as he helped supply Afghanistan with modern weaponry in order to defeat the Soviets in the Afghanistan War during the early 1980′s. It’s nice to see a director and writer who are wise enough to devote the film’s setup time to develop their main character so the audience can get to know Charlie Wilson and it certainly helps that he is no ordinary Congressman. He is, for lack of a better term, a playboy. He loves women. As a visitor in his office points out, all of his secretaries are women and they are all very pretty.
At the beginning of the film, Charlie is just himself as he is aware of a conflict in the Middle East but doesn’t understand the magnitude of it. But then one visit to an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan quickly opens his eyes as he witnesses first hand of what the war the Soviets have waged has done to the area. Then he is angry to learn that the government is handling the matter in a skimp fashion. So he looks to take action. He needs money and lots of it and he needs a way to give the Afghans modern weapons covertly. Luckily he finds just the two individuals that can help him. First there’s Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), an old acquaintance who happens to be passionately involved with the cause of ridding the world of communism and also happens to be the sixth wealthiest woman in Texas with resources to acquire the funds needed by Charlie. Then there’s CIA Agent Gust Avrakotos (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who along with his colleagues are forming a strategy in Afghanistan and are looking for someone to help them financially.
This is Tom Hanks’ picture from start to finish, although his co-stars try their hardest to steal each scene they’re in. Hanks gives Charlie a sarcastic personality but never overuses it to become offensive. At first look you would think the man didn’t have a care in the world about other people’s troubles but Hanks does a wonderful job convincing us otherwise as we see that Charlie does in fact have a heart. Julia Roberts is a little underused, only coming into play predominately in the final thirty minutes. Her performance is good while it lasts, but it would have been nice to have seen more of her. Phillip Seymour Hoffman on the other hand is pitch-perfect as Gust, a man who speaks his mind. Hoffman delivers the best lines. What a wonderful actor. In one scene, Charlie tells Gust “You’re no James Bond” and Gust, not missing a beat, replies “You’re no Thomas Jefferson either so call us even.”
Charlie Wilson’s War is not a great film. When it leaves the lovable cast and tries to depict the atrocities committed by Soviets, including helicopters gunning down women and children, the film stumbles because these are scenes that don’t need a dark comedic edge. On the contrary, the film is at it’s best with some touching, character driven moments with Hanks, Roberts and Hoffman. Unlike the talkative Lions for Lambs, you can come away with an entertaining message movie that’s a breezy hour-and-a-half instead of one that is dragged out.
||Release Date: December 21, 2007
Rated: R for strong language, nudity/sexual content and some drug use.
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Director: Mike Nichols
Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin (screenplay), George Crile (book)
Studio: Universal Pictures
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