Charlie Wilson's War (2007) / Drama-War

MPAA Rated: R for strong language, violence, sexual content, nudity, and some drug use
Running Time: 97 min.

Cast: Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams, Om Puri, Ned Beatty, Rachel Nichols, Shiri Appleby, Wynn Everett, Mary Bonner Baker, Emily Blunt
Director: Mike Nichols

Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin (based on the novel by George Crile)
Review published January 24, 2008

The film version of George Crile's bestseller is a timely revisionist piece on epicurean Texas congressman, and member of the House Appropriations Committee, Charlie Wilson (Hanks, The Da Vinci Code), who would become the catalyst for a U.S. covert operation to stop the U.S.S.R. from conquering their woefully outgunned neighbor, Afghanistan.  The actions would be directly linked to the downfall of the Soviet Union, who spent untold resources continuing to fight with multimillion dollar aircraft that were being taken down by artillery that cost mere tens of thousands. 

One of his staunch anti-Communist Houston constituents, Joanne Herring (Roberts, The Ant Bully), would be the one to draw attention to Wilson as to the atrocities committed by the Red Army, and moved to do something about it, Wilson began a crusade to get the U.S. behind a plan to thwart the Commies by funneling money into Pakistan, while working out a deal with the Israelis to supply Russian weapons for the Mujahedeen to use against them, thanks to inside information by CIA insider Gust Avrokotos (Hoffman, M:I III).

76-year-old director Mike Nichols (Closer, Primary Colors) proves he still has the golden touch when it comes to bringing out thoughtful fare adapted from other works to the big screen.  Aaron Sorkin (The American President, Malice), creator and main writer of TV's "West Wing", gives Criles' nonfiction book that witty, snarky vibe that worked so well for him in the political drama-comedy format.  Although it helps quite a bit to be familiar with the events surrounding the Afghan War, especially in how it foreshadows much of what is going on in the world today (the Afghan Arabs would use their victory -- as US actions were covert, so someone else could take all of the credit -- to springboard to such things as Al Qaeda and the Taliban), the film moves briskly, with a good sense of humor and depth in character that will entertain even those whose grasp on world events may not be as assured.  Nevertheless, if you know your news, such scenes as Avroktos relating a parable of a seer who says "we'll see" after each event in a boy's life that goes from tragedy to triumph is erudite stuff, especially as it is punctuated by the roar of an overhead plane echoing the 9/11 nightmare.

A big part of the reason why comes from the film playing more like a comical character study with a world events backdrop, letting us see the craziness that would be front page headlines through the filtered and skewed view of a man whose own political views stemmed more through favors and paybacks than through heartfelt convictions.  Solid performances help with an especially good supporting turn by Philip Seymour Hoffman as the surly CIA op who seems to be able to always read through the lines to gather up all the big picture details that others tend to miss.  Hanks is charismatic, as usual, and Julia Roberts chips in with a role that doesn't really require much out of her, but after three years off screen, it's a welcome return.

At slightly over ninety minutes, it definitely doesn't outstay its welcome, briskly moving from one story element to another without leaving us behind in the process.  For a political junkie flick, it definitely strikes on multiple levels, as it is intelligent, assured, and often quite funny.  By the end of the film, especially as we look at today's headlines, it calls into question our policy of not helping others in need when they need it most.  As we turn our backs to a people who no longer serve our interests, sometimes those people can come back to bite you in the rear when they hold you responsible for the ills they experience.  Charlie Wilson, through all his self-serving at times, asked us to be heroes, and twenty years later, we finally have to take care of problems that could have been averted, only this time as villains in their eyes.

Qwipster's rating:

2008 Vince Leo