Movie Review for Charlie Wilson's War (2007)

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Review #587 of 365
Movie Review of Charlie Wilson's War (2007) [R] 97 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $14.50
Where Viewed: Landmark Greenwood Village, Greenwood Village, CO
When Seen: 21 December 2007
Time: 2:20 pm
DVD Release Date: 15 April 2008 (click date to purchase or pre-order)
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer

Soundtrack: Download now from James Newton Howard - Charlie Wilson's War (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - or - order the CD below

Directed by: Mike Nichols (Closer )
Screenplay by: Aaron Sorkin ("The West Wing") based on book by George Crile

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Tom Hanks (The Da Vinci Code) • Amy Adams (Enchanted) • Julia Roberts (Charlotte's Web) • Philip Seymour Hoffman (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead) • Emily Blunt (Dan in Real Life) • Peter Gerety (Inside Man) • Wynn Everett (End of the Spear) • Mary Bonner Baker (Herbie Fully Loaded ) • Rachel Nichols (P2) • Shiri Appleby ("Six Degrees") • Om Puri (Fool N Final) • Ned Beatty (Shooter)

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Some news reports of the fall of 2007 have indicated that USAers have had no appetite for war films leading to dismal box office results for most of the anti-Iraqi war movies and documentaries. Would they have an appetite for a sort of different sort of war film about a wealthy socialite with a cause, a charming yet philandering Texas congressman, and an angry CIA agent who come together to properly arm Afghan rebels against the invading, mighty Soviet Army? The answer, while not simple, would be "no" if the assertion of the news stories, as most lean to try to suggest, is that either USAers are 'sick' of war-related media, or they support the Iraqi efforts and are showing this by avoiding films that offer alternatives to their opinions. Why would they not appreciate a light comedy about how 'good' people took up an honest cause to help under-funded formerly free people under siege by our formerly biggest enemy, the Soviet Union and communism?

… deliciously pointed and brilliant political commentary…er comedy …
Probably because they will be confronted with a lot of things they either have been working really hard to forget—such as that Osama bin Laden was trained and funded by the USA to help free Afghanistan from their communist aggressors, and (b) they will not want to recall that what followed this attempted Soviet take over was one of the most fundamentalist Islamic regimes the world has ever seen, the brutal Taliban government. No, they will not want to reconcile either of these two historically unpleasant points, against one of the film's most persuasive, while un-emphasized, yet out there in plain view like the so-called elephant in the room, and in a way that only the brilliance of writer Aaron Sorkin can paint it so clearly, points and that is that our government doesn't practice what it preaches and never minds its own business while simultaneously stamping its feet and pounding the table when other governments mess around in geopolitics. No, they won't want to have these played out so elegantly in this now Golden Globe-nominated comedy featuring the USA's beloved Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts and directed by Mike Nichols. In a very real sense, the film is designed like a bitter pill. It lures you in with a beautiful candy shell, but once that dissolves, you've got to face what's really inside.

Based on George Crile's book about real-life Texas Congressman, Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), and sticking, at least from the perspective of those involved with the screenplay, to the historical truth, the film gets going when free-wheeling Charlie Wilson is basically summoned to do the bidding of Joanne Herring (Julia Robers), a well-connected, fantastically wealthy, and beautiful Texas socialite whose cause du jour is the Afghans who've been basically abandoned by those she feels should be their natural allies—the USA. What she wants from him is a covert war that would arm them to defeat the Soviets. And, as she's prone to saying a time or two, what she wants she usually gets, which might include her way with Charlie Wilson who's only to happy and eager to oblige on all fronts—even under the watchful eye of his personal assistant, Bonnie Bach (Amy Adams). So, with his marching orders and a meeting arranged for him with Pakastani President Zia (Om Puri), he heads off into the wild blue yonder ready and eager to make this thing happen. The C.I.A. comes across as only mildly interested in helping the Afghan cause for they know that anything too aggressive in the way of support could be viewed as an actual act of war with the Soviet Union. Given the number of nuclear missiles pointed both ways at the time, they knew the relative danger of saber rattling with the Soviets. So, Charlie inadvertently enlists the assistance of C.I.A. analyst Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as his ally in the intelligence community establishing the third side of this triangle created by Joanne's money, his seats on oversight committees, and the C.I.A. brainpower.

The film-version of the congressman paints him as being a good old boy, who partakes of nearly all the distractions from drugs & alcohol, parties, women, and the expense account that a Congress person can enjoy. Seeing him operate, it's difficult to believe sometimes that our tax dollars go to pay the salaries of these types of people. And yet, Charlie has a deeply passionate moral side as well. When he sees the plight of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan up close, he knows that something will have to be done and soon. He convinces himself that arming the Afghan rebels with anti-helicopter weapons from Israel—the world's largest source of Soviet made weapons of the time—will be a very good thing. Watching the Soviet gun ships blast up everything in sight including women and children would be persuasive. What becomes clear, though, is that nobody has really thought about what happens next. We are so good at charging in, but not so good at figuring out what to do later. Possibly, also, our government isn't always so good at doing the homework in advance. In this case, the plight of the present situation is more a more important cause to solve. The story ends on an especially compelling and sad point the illustrates an example of this at its 'finest'.

Micke Nichols and Aaron Sorkin make for a formidable pair when it comes to crafting deliciously pointed and brilliant political commentary…er…comedy…in the form of a cinematic experience. The film bears seeing a couple of times with a bit of history reading in between in order to get everything that's really being dissected here. Tom Hanks proves himself again to be one of the best actors of his generation after a not-so-worthy performance in The Da Vinci Code. Julia Roberts fans have enjoyed her stint doing voices for animated characters such as Charlotte in Charlotte's Web giving her more time to be a mother and raise her children, however, her on-screen appearances have been sorely missed. She's simply stunning in this role taking it out of the realm of pure socialite with a cause and putting into the category of a determined woman with enormous international clout who actually works to help bring about enormous global change without ever being elected to public office. As for Philip Seymour Hoffman, this is one of his truly best performances ever. Ironically, he was heralded for his role as Truman Capote, and his work there was probably not half as effective as he is in this role as the son of Greek immigrants who works his way up the chain in the C.I.A. only to find a semi-glass ceiling for people who are not more than first generation citizens. His tirade in the office of his immediate superior which results in him shattering the glass window wall for an apparent second time stands out as one of the more memorable scenes of the year when it comes to the impact of injustice, intolerance, and paranoia. His portrayal, albeit somewhat matter-of-fact, is simply right on the money, dead-pan funny, and diabolically true. Gust Avrakotos, brilliant beyond brilliant, takes Charlie aside at two critical times: first, he works to convince Charlie to get Joanne to tone down her religious rhetoric stating that the USA does not fight religious war and her incessant references to saving the Afghans from the Godless Soviets is the 'Christian' thing to do are going to be problematic down the road, and the second occurs when the Soviets have left the building and Charlie Wilson and gang are celebrating. Here he brings up a story he tried to bring up earlier about a Zen master who was asked repeatedly through out the life of his student if the great things he accomplished were a good thing. "We'll see," is always the reply. Once again, the Nichols / Sorkin political commentary is sharper than a serpent's tooth.

Hopefully, a large number of people will be lured in to see this film by the delicious coating and come out more well-educated about not only the history of the USA's involvement in the complex powder keg we incorrectly call the Middle East when actually Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq are not, exactly, within the Middle East; but, also, with the dangers not so much of intervening on the behalf of the downtrodden but of doing so without a crystal clear plan of what to do after. If you beat up a bully, you need to be aware of who's second in command or what other bullies have been hiding out waiting for the moment to seize the day. The film stands out as one of the best political comedies of the year, but then it is also the only political comedy of the year if you don't count Michael Moore's documentary Sicko.

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Cast Members
Tom HanksAmy AdamsJulia Roberts
Philip Seymour HoffmanEmily BluntPeter Gerety
Wynn EverettMary Bonner BakerRachel Nichols
Shiri ApplebyNed Beatty
Mike Nichols
Aaron Sorkin
CD Soundtrack

Review-lite Charlie Wilson's War (2007) [max of 150 words]
Director Mike Nichols takes Aaron Sorkin's powerful political commentary script based on the life of real Texas Congressman, Charlie Wilson, and illustrates some of the major and compelling pitfalls of the USA's overt and covert operations of the past 40 years. Starring Tome Hanks as Wilson and Julia Roberts as his funder, the film challenges us to think and reconcile our government's actions with the outcomes. Philip Seymour Hoffman helps the two out as their C.I.A. liaison in their foreign affairs work. The threesome provides not only ample comedic brilliance but also wonderful gifts in bringing out the subtleties of their characters. The result is purely astute political comedy that cannot be ignored.

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