Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.
Release Date: December 21st, 2007 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Mike Nichols Actors: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Jud Tylor, Hilary Angelo, Cyia Batten, Emily Blunt, Peter Gerety, Rachel Nichols, Shiri Appleby, Wynn Everett, John Slattery
harlie’s Wilson’s War” demonstrates, with deft veracity, just how futile wars can be, especially to the very people who spend countless hours and finances to fund them. Virtuoso performances and remarkably memorable characters teamed with a riotously sarcastic script catapult the film, helmed by the continuously unpredictable Mike Nichols, to the top of the year’s best. Politics – dirty or otherwise – has never been so much fun.
Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is a Texas congressman, credited with almost singlehandedly winning the Cold War. Hanging around plenty of drugs, women, and scotch, he also takes an unexpected interest in the events in Afghanistan and the terrors of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Enlisting the help of Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a renegade CIA covert mission expert, and Joanne (Julia Roberts), a wealthy socialite, Wilson raises money to provide Afghanistan with the rocket launchers and antitank weaponry they need to cause serious damage to the Russian military. Eventually, by the end of the ‘80s, the Cold War would come to a halt – and the funds would be immediately cut, thereby removing all chances for the fledgling southwest-central Asian country to rebuild and recoup.
The acting is exquisite, though that is to be expected from the renowned cast. A large part of their success, however, can be attributed to the script, which affords exceptional character development and memorable actions even for the supporting players. And a hearty helping of that credit goes to the novel of the same name (by George Crile, adapted for the screen by Aaron Sorkin). Tom Hanks delivers yet another unequaled performance as Wilson, the man who did so much for so many – and yet still remains relatively unknown. Gust is just as significant, being vividly boffo in both his physicality and his wry cynicism, allowing the inimitable Hoffman to once again show superb range. Julia Roberts, on the other hand, is perhaps the only weak link of the film, stretching no boundaries with her generically snobbish character and not-subtle-enough accent.
Defeating the Soviet Union was not an easy task, especially considering the many conflicting goals between the various political leaders. “Why is Congress saying one thing and doing nothing?” queries a disgruntled politician. “Tradition, mostly,” returns Wilson. Everyone appears to want the conflict to end, yet a blind eye is turned to the atrocities taking place in Afghanistan. It takes a trip to the war-torn refugee camps in Pakistan to motivate Wilson and his main financial source, Doc Long (Ned Beatty). Wilson uses strategic ties with committees to raise funding of weaponry for Afghanistan, from $5 million to $10 million with a simple command – but the president of Pakistan scoffs at the idea of winning a war for such a trivial amount. By the end of the Wilson campaign, $1 billion is sent to the Mujahedin to shoot down Russian helicopters – the first step toward victory, as Wilson predicted. But beyond the scope of the film, the unresolved turmoil in Afghanistan led to further, less ignorable problems, which Wilson presumably foresaw.
During the course of “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the main characters travel from the United States to Pakistan to Afghanistan to Jerusalem to Egypt, but regardless of where they go, sarcasm always follows. There’s a surprising amount of comedy in the film, considering that the political overtones are generally quite serious. An early scene boasts slapstick in the vein of the Marx Brothers, as Gust is repeatedly ushered in and out of Wilson’s office as he tries to smooth over a legal issue with his posse of gorgeous gals, referred to as Charlie’s Angels or jailbait (“You can teach ‘em to type, but you can’t teach ‘em to grow tits”).
With the press focusing on the drug allegations against Wilson instead of the important issues of the Cold War, and the clashing desires of officials to budget their assistance, it’s clear that by the end of the film, the politicians are still (perhaps, perpetually) oblivious to what is really necessary. And since the screenplay is so quick-witted and astute, some audience members may be correspondingly unable to keep up with all of the dialogue-intensive helter-skelter. But, in an irony of the elected official in general – most of whom are ignorant as to the difference between Pakistan and Afghanistan – it’s a prime argument to support the roundabout method Wilson employs to get things done.
– Mike Massie