Charlie Wilson's War ***
Directed by Mike Nichols
Written by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by George Crile
Tom Hanks as Charlie Wilson
Julia Roberts as Joanne Herring
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos
Amy Adams as Bonnie
Ned Beatty as Doc Long
Emily Blunt as Jane Liddle
97 Minutes(Rated R)
In a fall movie season that has been quite good, but loaded with politics-in the forms of "Rendition," "In the Valley of Elah," "Badland," etc-"Charlie Wilson's War" actually decides to both take a situation that happened nearly three decades ago, and at the same time make a delightful, sometimes sloppy, comedy about it, boasting two great performances and one of them more of a coasting job. More on that later. It's a film that relies heavy on tone and performance, as in the end the characters don't exactly get into much conflict that we the audience can sympathize with. And yet its a rather fun ride-with moments that will make you laugh out loud, moments that take you on quite a wild ride, and sadly, a rather abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion that made me wonder if the movie was even finished yet. But with the release date just under two weeks away, I'm sure the film is finished, and I guess writer Aaron Sorkin just didn't know how to end it.
Tom Hanks is back since his last rather bland work "The Da Vinci Code," as Charlie Wilson, a Texas Congressman who-although has been reelected five times now-has a knack for ending up in hot tubs with strippers and cocaine. He does enjoy having fun, but when he's behind his desk its all work, and when the sixth richest woman in the United States, Joanne Herring-played by Julia Roberts, who appears rather briefly considering her massive appearances in the advertisements, asks him to try and end Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, Charlie is is taken aback. But after a visit to the occupied country, Charlie quickly changes his mind, and calls the CIA who sends Gust Avrakotos-played by Philip Seymour Hoffman-ending up with the two of them doing what they can to get weapons and training to the Afghans. At the same time Charlie is fighting for himself, after someone names him as someone who took a part in cocaine with several strippers.
There are some very good acting here. Tom Hanks once again blends into the character he is playing, and manages to make quite a charming and charismatic character out of Charlie. This is the third film of the season with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and he was so good and funny and fresh here-hell, even his makeup makes you laugh-that if there is room I wouldn't mind him getting a supporting actor nomination. From the first moment you lay eyes on him, to his very first foul mouthed line, you are into his character-as with most Hoffman characters. And there is some fun work by Amy Adams as Wilson's assistant who is always at work. Wilson has all of his workers women, because his saying is "You can teach me how to type, but you can't teach me to grow tits."
What does make the movie work, aside from the acting, is that it picks a tone to tell this story and it sticks with it. I don't care what people say about this, this is a political comedy-the only scenes that really might stick out as drama are when Charlie ends up visiting Afghanistan, and that is really the key scene where we see a shift in his priorities. It never gets too preachy at any moment, and it really does a good job at staying on one level. I wish they did a little more with the characters, however. There are a few scenes towards the end where we see Charlie drinking in his office late at night with some red spots on his eyes, but we never delve deeper into what is bothering him, or even several sides of how he feels about the issue. And the rest of the government screwing up what Charlie accomplishes is only tacked on at the very end. When I thought the film was going to go into a third act, the screen fades to black and the credits begin to role. It's completely anti climatic, as if there was more to it that was just cut. And at a lean ninety seven minutes, the pacing is very quick, but I wouldn't have minded a little more, especially if it benefited for the viewer.
Mike Nichols has done better work behind the camera-there are a few questionable zooms, edits, and some of it seems a little sloppy. But on the whole, "Charlie Wilson's War" really is a pretty fun time. I said a few months ago that "Michael Clayton" was the year's smart movie, but this one is a smart film that I think everyone could enjoy.