Charlie Wilson was a bachelor congressman from Texas who had a habit of showing up in hot tubs with strippers and cocaine. His "Good Time Charlie" exterior, however, masked an extraordinary mind, a deep sense of patriotism and a passion for the underdog, and in the early 1980s the underdog was Afghanistan-which had just been brutally...
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Charlie Wilson was a bachelor congressman from Texas who had a habit of showing up in hot tubs with strippers and cocaine. His "Good Time Charlie" exterior, however, masked an extraordinary mind, a deep sense of patriotism and a passion for the underdog, and in the early 1980s the underdog was Afghanistan-which had just been brutally invaded by the Russians. Charlie's longtime friend and patron and sometime lover was Joanne Herring, one of the wealthiest women in Texas and a virulent anti-communist. Believing the American response to the Russian invasion was anemic at best, she prods Charlie into doing more for the Mujahideen (Afghan freedom fighters). Charlie's partner in this uphill endeavor is CIA Agent Gust Avrakotos, a blue-collar operative in a company of Ivy League blue bloods. Together, the three of them-Charlie, Joanne and Gust-travel the world to form unlikely alliances among the Pakistanis, Israelis, Egyptians, arms dealers, law makers and a belly dancer.Their success was remarkable. Funding for covert operations against the Soviets went from $5 million to $1 billion annually. The Red Army retreated out of Afghanistan. When asked how a group of peasants was able to deliver such a decisive blow to the army of a superpower, Pakistani President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq responded simply, "Charlie did it."
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Out of the rash of socio-political movies this season, Charlie Wilson's War stands as the best--thanks in large part to the film's trio of stars and the snarky script from Aaron Sorkin.
Although the title has "war" in it, Sorkin thankfully steers clear of those woes. Set in the '80s, the screenwriter instead focuses on the real-life story of one Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), a Texan congressman who likes women and booze--and helping the underdog. In this case, it's Afghanistan, which has been brutally invaded by the Soviet Union. In order to help the mujahideen (Afghanistan's rebel fighters) repel the Russians from their occupied land, Wilson aligns himself with two key people: blue-blood conservative and fervent anti-communist Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) and temperamental CIA Agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Together, these three raise the covert budget from $5 million to $1 billion and get the weapons in the mujahideens' hands. Needless to say, the Soviet Union hightails it out of Afghanistan and falls apart, while Wilson comes out smelling the sweetest. But in reality, empowering the Afghan people only created a new monster. As Wilson aptly says at the end, "…we f**ked up the endgame."
Hanks and Roberts haven't been this cool in a movie since their heydays in the '90s. Hanks has particular fun as the jocular Wilson, whose exterior would indicate a guy who only wants to have a good time but whose sharp mind, deeply felt patriotism and sense of fair play make him the most unlikely hero. As his lovely costar, Roberts seems to be aging like a fine wine, turning in a very elegant performance as the Southern rich socialite who clearly has her own opinions and can play any game thrown at her. But the real humor comes from Hoffman as the sardonic Avrakotos, a career CIA man who has seen and done it all with little to no recognition for his work. The actor is just having a hell of a year, with great performances in both Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and The Savages. But if we could pinpoint one Hoffman performance the Academy might recognize, this one would be it. Also good (and having a great year) is Amy Adams as Wilson's loyal administrative assistant. The best part is that all of them work Sorkin's dialogue like pros, delivering the lines in that rapid style the West Wing creator loves best.
Of course, Charlie Wilson's War's director is no slouch either. Mike Nichols is very familiar with this kind of talky dramedy. Perhaps broader in scope than his usual, more intimate fare, Nichols is still able to steer his cast to near perfection, as a genuine actor's director. He obviously has a nice rapport with Julia Roberts, having already guided her to one of her better performances in Closer, but seems to frame Tom Hanks and the rest with all the professionalism he has at his fingertips. No, the only real problem with Charlie Wilson's War is that it is coming on the tail end of a slew of movies about troubles in the Middle East. Even though Hollywood thinks it's a hot-button topic, the audiences don't necessarily agree. From The Kingdom to Rendition to Lions for Lambs and others, moviegoers are just not responding, despite the star power of a Jamie Foxx, Reese Witherspoon or Tom Cruise. But out of all these movies, Charlie Wilson's War has the best shot to rise above--not only because it has box office draws Hanks and Roberts attached, but because it's the most well-rounded and engaging of the bunch. Good luck, Charlie!
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.
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