Sunday, January 6, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War (***)

Directed by Mike Nichols


Mike Nichol's new film tells a very interesting, but very true story. For close to fifty years, America laid in fear of the Communist empire in the Soviet Union, and the constant stand-off of nuclear weapons between the US and the USSR has been documented famously as the Cold War. In the late 80s, Afghanistan became the first nation ever to take down the Soviet Army, and the domino effect led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumble of the Communist regime. How exactly was Afghanistan able to destroy the firepower of Russia? With a little help from Texas congressman Charlie Wilson.

Charlie Wilson's War tells the story of how he was able to pull it off, despite most of the American government not wanting to "draw attention". The film is so whimsical and funny, it is made even more impressive by the fact that it follows very the actual story very closely. With an adapted screenplay by Emmy-award winning writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), the film pulsates with humor and authenticity. Sure, the film settles for sentimentality when we want to see more sarcasm, but we can forgive it easily.

Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), a democratic Congressman, was in charge of a district in Texas that asked for little more than "guns and low taxes". With a bunch of free time on his hands, Charlie indulged in scantily-clad secretaries, gallons upon gallons of whiskey, and created quite a reputation of poor character. That is, until he receives a call from Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), a platinum blonde Southern belle who happens to be the sixth richest woman in the state of Texas. Herring, using her strong bravado, convinces Charlie to give more thought to the Freedom Fighters in Afghanistan, fighting against a Soviet Army that ruthlessly kills innocent people in their country. A pious woman, Herring knows if the Afghans can defeat them, Communism may fall as well.

When Charlie decides to indulge in Joanne's wishes, he meets Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a disgruntled CIA agent, recently fired for breaking his bosses windows. Gust is a large, brooding man, with just as much an affinity for alcohol as Charlie does. Together, followed by Charlie's personal assistant Bonnie (Amy Adams), they manage to conduct a covert war, supplying Afghanistan with the weapons needed to take down the Soviet tanks and helicopters. Without anybody watching, Charlie was able to get money for his operation, leading to the end of the Cold War.

How does Charlie do it? And why is it that Wilson is never mentioned in the history books? Well, truth is, Charlie Wilson is a perfect example of someone the USA would like to forget about when the history books are typed. His constant boozing and womanizing make him the perfect anti-role model, but the truth is, Charlie was the one who got the money to supply Afghanistan, and the whole story creates one incredibly intriguing movie. In Mike Nichol's first film since the seething sex drama Closer, Nichols continues to show his intuitive talent for hilarious dialogue, mixed with characters that we know would actually say the words.

The film features a first-rate cast, headlined by Tom Hanks. Hanks is in the kind of role that is perfect for him: a sincere, flawed, but overall hilarious character. People forget, when they saw him in Cast Away and Philadelphia, that Hanks is an actor best fit for comedy. And now, with his eyes puffy, and his face beginning to hang, his look is even more pitch-perfect, at least for a role like Charlie Wilson. Hanks accomplishes something incredible, creating an incredibly likable character, but never goes too far, so we still believe he is a real person.

Of coarse, Hanks is boosted by a great supporting cast. Hoffman is dependable as Gust, a big chunk of sweaty, chain-smoking aggression--a perfect denouement to Hoffman's incredible year with The Savages and Before The Devil Knows You're Dead. Julia Roberts, in her first major role since 2004's Ocean's Twelve, is ravishing as Joanne Herring, even if the role is very limited. Amy Adams, once again, is lovable as Wilson's sensible personal assistant Bonnie, who seems to be the only woman working for Charlie who isn't required to boost eye-popping cleavage. Ned Beatty has a very good cameo as Doc Long, the politician who is the biggest financial contributor to Charlie's mission.

The film does not boast incredible filmmaking, nor does it totally deliver the effect I feel this material really deserves, but what it is, is entertaining. You can tell that the talent that has come together here is really doing it's best. Mike Nichols, a master filmmaker of his time, shows that he isn't done yet. Like Sidney Lumet with Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, Nichols seems to be showing that he is still able to deliver powerful, effective films, and with Charlie Wilson's War, he makes a film that is very funny, very charming, and absolutely wonderful.

(Note: As shone thoroughly in the film, despite helping Afghanistan defeat the Soviets, Charlie was not able to help the Afghans recover from all the damage, nor was he able to find money to build schools in the country. The very people that we gave weapons and training to would become the Taliban, a terrorist group known for much violence, including September 11th.)

1 comment:

Chloe Dinnerrolly said...

I wanted to see this movie. I had no idea it was a true story! Regardless, I love Tom Hanks, even when he's a bit of a chubbo.
I shall wait for DVD.