Charlie Wilson’s War

UK release date: 11 January 2008

cast list

Tom Hanks
Julia Roberts
Philip Seymour Hoffman

directed by
Mike Nichols
Over the last year, we have seen the crme de Hollywood working hard to bolster and deconstruct the War on Terror, in films such as Lions for Lambs, Rendition, the forth-coming In the Valley of Elah, and The Kingdom. Even the dire Elizabeth sequel set some 400 years ago couldn’t escape the blazing heat of one of the most unique trends in film history. Charlie Wilson’s War is no exception, despite its comic fronting.

Tom Hanks stars as Wilson, who teams up with a fellow Texan/ex-girlfriend (Julia Roberts) and a CIA operative (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to deliver the largest and most successful covert conflict resolution in American history.

Hanks is an odd choice to play an excessive imbiber, consumer of cannabis and cocaine, and scandalous womanizer, and in some ways he is the thick pith on this otherwise juicy fruit. Lumbering through the part he cant capture the dazzle of a spellbinding Lothario Good Time Charlie.

Julia Roberts plays ostentatious, southern belle, Joanne Herring, and (unlike Tom Hanks’s cheeky revelations at the start) very good in her bikini she looks too. Her hair and make-up wonderfully highlight the affectations of the socialite’s meticulously constructed personality although that overdone face scarily tickled out memories of Joan Rivers.

However, with the now-ubiquitous Hoffman things pick up. His fantastic, vitriolic, acerbic and permanently pissed off CIA operative, Gust Avrakotos provides feverish and bristling presence. Mustached, bespectacled with hair swept back he comes across as a middle-aged hedgehog with an attitude problem and is so magnetic it’s hard to imagine, come awards season, that he will not be a frontrunner for best supporting actor.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Aaron Sorkin’s script is the power behind it all. The West Wing writer is accustomed to producing entertaining political work and there are fistfuls of sharp lines to amuse throughout. “You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you’re told you have character flaws by a man who hung his predecessor in the middle of a military coup”. There are also moments of remarkable openness, sincerity and wisdom but it mostly feels less funny and less serious than it ought to be.

Director, Mike Nichols could have portrayed the Afghanistan men in a way that less resembled caricatures from Team America sketches but the dignified people that are repeatedly referred to. There was also something unsettling about watching a bloated, balding, American, old-boy citing God to an excited crowd of refugees and war victims. It demonstrated Nichols and Sorkin’s ability to balance their moral judgments and leave it in the hands of an audience. However, they may well be accused of fence-sitting.

Podgy political parodying aside, there are enough prophetic moments to add a darker tone. The shadow of Osama Bin Laden looms large and although the lesson that government actions have great repercussions is not a new one its still depressingly relevant.

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