December 22, 2007

REVIEW: Charlie Wilson's War (B)

Background: In yet another "War on Terrorism" message movie of 2007, director Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Closer) works with Aaron Sorkin's (TV's "The West Wing") adaptation of George Crile's 2003 book about Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, and yes, I know this was a long sentence. Charlie Wilson's War stars Tom Hanks (The Da Vinci Code) in the title role, with supporting performances by Julia Roberts (Closer), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead), and Amy Adams (Junebug). I've been reading buzz about it for over a year now - probably because of the Nichols/Hanks/Roberts connection, but with the competition that has surfaced as of late I'm not sure what its award chances are beyond some token nominations. Then again, it's the strongest of the war movies thus far.

Synopsis: In the early 1980's, Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson (Hanks) is a boozing womanizer with no enemies and plenty of influential friends, including wealthy socialite Joanne Herring (Roberts). At the height of the cold war, she and several others (including Dan Rather) convince Wilson to take on the cause of the mujahideen in Afghanistan, who are fighting against the invading Soviets. While pushing an expanding budget through Congress, he quietly enlists CIA troublemaker Gust Avrakatos (Hoffman) - along with friends in Pakistan and Israel - to arm the Afghans with all kinds of weapons. Since Americans are not on the ground, the war goes unnoticed for years, and soon the Soviets are retreating while Wilson is earning accolades in Washington. Before it's all over, however, Avrakatos eerily warns Hanks of what will happen if the U.S. washes their hands of Afghanistan too soon...

I Loved:
+ Philip Seymour Hoffman, who strikes a perfect balance between chafing and charming.

I Liked:
+ The refugee camp scene, which was appropriate and timely (i.e., Darfur, many other places right now).
+ Tom Hanks, who added enough charisma to his role to carry the movie.

I Disliked:
- That the Soviet - Afghan political situation was not further explored. But I guess it didn't need to be, we were going to fight the Soviets no matter what.
- The office scene where Hoffman and Bonnie Bach's (Adams) girls were flying in and out of the room. It was amusing but exhausting.

I Hated:
- Julia Roberts's accent - ouch, that was not working.
- That all of the most important conversations in Washington happen spontaneously while walking in hallways. This is exactly why I don't watch "The West Wing."

Writing - 8
Acting - 8
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 43/50= 84% = B

Last Word: There's something charmingly, maybe refreshingly contradictory about Charlie Wilson's War - it's a comedy about war. Of course that's been done before, but certainly not in recent months. As a stand-alone movie, it's entertaining enough and not too provocative. As a referendum on our current situation in Afghanistan, it isn't quite informative enough for me, and it borders on flashy. I guess I should read the book, though, or wait for a DVD interview with the real Charlie Wilson, who of course approved this production. Tom Hanks does an admirable - albeit sometimes awkward - job in the title role, while Julia Roberts seems to yawn through her role. Philip Seymour Hoffman perfectly delivers his juicy lines, and Amy Adams is very good as Charlie Wilson's assistant. All in all, I recommend seeing Charlie Wilson's War for an entertaining lesson on the cold war, despite a couple of minor annoyances.

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