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Movie Review: Charlie Wilson’s War

Charlie Wilson’s War
Directed by Mike Nichols
Written by Aaron Sorkin from the book by George Crile

Nichols is 76, and he still cranks them out at a good pace. His last one was Closer, which got some awards attention back in 2004. Here, Nichols gets back into his Primary Colors mode with political satire, teaming up with that ultimate love-him-or-hate-him left-winger Aaron Sorkin, who, believe it or not, has only just written his fourth screenplay for the big screen (A Few Good Men, Malice, and The American President are the others). The plotline I’m about to relate doesn’t really give you a feel for this movie, which I’ll explain.

In Charlie Wilson’s War, Texas congressman Charlie (Tom Hanks, who looks a lot like the real guy) is a guy who likes to drink and bed down women, but honestly has a passion for the way the country works and is worldly-wise. His attention is on the situation in Afghanistan. In 1980, they were being raided by the Soviets and it led to refugee camps, where people’s way of life was, to put it mildly, less than favorable.

Using his small influence, Wilson is able to increase the $5 million budget against the communists in Afghanistan to double, and then with wealthy Texas backer Joanne Harring (Julia Roberts) is able to drum up support with his secret committee to up the ante even more. Because it’s going to take an incredible amount of funds to wage war with the Soviets, and the Afghan Mujahideen need things that can blow up the heavy artillery like tanks and helicopters.

Also needed is a guy who wages war for a living, and that is CIA operative Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who can orchestrate key people behind the scenes. Wilson needs to make it so that the support can reasonably be traced to countries other than the U.S. And, the film shows what happens after the U.S. gives their support.

But the straightforward synopsis of the plot doesn’t really do the film justice. Keep in mind, what Wilson does is actually really illegal, with no OK from the President and most of the rest of Congress. The film gets a lot of humor from what Wilson stages behind the scenes to grease the money men, and from some outstanding dialogue which comes courtesy of Sorkin. Hanks is good as usual, and Hoffman’s Avrakotos is a great “character,” full of tired-of-this-crap cynicism. And I liked Julia Roberts OK I guess, but she’s one the weaker parts of the film.

There are many supporting players here, too. Ned Beatty plays a congressman who gets attached to the cause and helps Wilson get more money, Wilson has an army of hotties working in his office: Shiri Appleby plays one that Wilson calls “Jailbait” and P2’s Rachel Nichols is also here. The Devil Wears Prada’s Emily Blunt plays a sexy politician’s daughter and is in it all too briefly. And finally, the always-welcome Amy Adams plays Wilson’s assistant.

The movie does have, ultimately, a Sorkin message, but it’s a very good one that I feel is absolutely true. Americans will fight for a cause as long as it’s “us vs. them” but if a situation is no longer “us vs. them” we get bored and try to find the next thing to be passionate about.

Charlie Wilson’s War is everything that a Sorkin-Nichols pedigree should deliver.


Comment from Doc
Time: December 26, 2007, 12:16 pm

Excellent. I suppose this is quite the contrast to boring lots like “Lions for Lambs” and such. Political dramedies don’t have to be boring. In fact, it should be the exact opposite. I was leary of this film, but I think you might have talked me into seeing it.

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