Charlie Wilson’s War

Movie Review #869

FLAWED, BUT FUNNY AND POIGNANT AT THE SAME TIME.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

charlie_wilsons_war

Premiered December 10, 2007 (Universal City, California)
Released December 21, 2007 (nationwide)
Biography, Comedy, Drama
Rated R (contains strong language, nudity, sexual content, drug use)
102 minutes

In “The Graduate”, director Mike Nichols revealed to us a woman named Mrs. Robinson in a fashion that defied all our first impressions of her. She’s a fiftysomething woman who has been friends with Benjamin Braddock’s parents for his whole life, and she appears a very courteous woman. Before 15 minutes are through in that movie, she’s already tricked Benjamin into driving her back home from his graduation party, and has begun to seduce him.

Nichols offers the same sort of fast-paced opening in “Charlie Wilson’s War”, a film of his that came as much as four decades after “The Graduate”. The film opens with the titular character (Tom Hanks) receiving the CIA’s Honored Colleague Award for his congressional efforts during the Cold War. Wilson is a member of the United States House of Representatives from Texas’s 2nd district. We see two title cards. One bears the film’s own title, and the next reads, “The following is based on a true story.” And then we cut to a scene in a hot tub, where Wilson is seen partying hard with cocaine, strippers, and a great deal of alcohol.

Charlie Wilson is an intriguing character. He secretaries are all beautiful, young women who he refers to as “jail bait.” Not only is he a bigot, he spends some the movie trying to get the press out of his face when allegations are made about his cocaine use. But this is more than likely because has better issues to deal with then to think about what he’s done wrong. It takes an idiot to look at him and realize that this man doesn’t exactly live the most proper lifestyle, but he cares deeply about the world around him.

After witnessing Afghan refugee camps that spanned over countless acres of Pakistani soil, Wilson is determined to shield the defenseless Afghan nation from attacking Soviet helicopters. In simplest terms, the strategy is to shoot down Soviet helicopters. One thing for certain is that it will cost a lot, and not everybody’s on board when Wilson wants to raise the budget. It’s at just $5 million at the beginning of this covert war, but Wilson helped to bring it up to $1 billion.

There’s probably more to the story than what we’re told. While I won’t deny that this man is a hero, the movie glamorizes him as if he were Odysseus. However, Tom Hanks is outstanding in the role. He captures the man’s accent, his personality, and everything in between. His sidekick is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose performance pretty much goes without saying. “Charlie Wilson’s War” faces a rather sudden shift from a climactic tragedy to a happy ending, but with this contrast, Hanks is only more enabled to emphasize the character’s heroism and selflessness. Again, the character receives a bit much glamor, but we feel something in these last scenes.

“Charlie Wilson’s War” does falter in presenting believable dialogue, as the context of the story is set up entirely through conversations. In one specific instance, Julia Roberts goes on asking Hanks a series of political questions that clearly she already knows the answer to. Curiously enough, the film attempts to downplay this flaw rather than eliminate it, when Hanks eventually answers one of Roberts’s questions by inquiring just what we’ve been wondering: Why is she asking questions that she already knows the answer to? Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“A Few Good Men”) could have given us background refreshers in a more convincing light.

But it’s not all the dialogue that’s like this.  “Charlie Wilson’s War” is, for the most part, a hilarious comedy and a poignant drama.  At just over 90 minutes, it feels a bit short, but it’s hard to complain when it makes its point pretty clear in that amount of time.

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5 thoughts on “Charlie Wilson’s War

    • Mmm…sort of. That’s a neat way of putting it actually; I’d never heard of that before. But while Strangelove was a very, very edgy satire of Cold War, this is a very, very edgy comedy set around a hero during the Cold War. I also feel inclined to note that the political bias is far more obvious in Charlie Wilson’s War.

    • It hits the mark at the end! That struck me, that realization that so much had been done to defend the destitute only for them to be left a third-world, helpless nation. It’s kind of like that final scene from Schindler’s List, when we suddenly realize that in his desperation to get workers, Oskar Schindler has poured his heart and soul out on the table and made himself a poor man so that thousands of Jews could be liberated.

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