Entertainment » Movies

Charlie Wilson’s War

by David Foucher
EDGE Publisher
Friday Dec 21, 2007
Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks in "Charlie Wilson’s War"
Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks in "Charlie Wilson’s War"  

For those whose interest in world politics waxes and wanes with the evening news, the fact that after 9/11 the nation came to abrupt grips with the fact that America's enemies were fighting us utilizing weapons with which we ourselves armed them likely led to incredulity. The story of those weapons is told in a sassy, ironic and entertaining way in Mike Nichols' utterly engaging "Charlie Wilson's War" - and it might just be the smartest film of 2007.

Tom Hanks plays Charlie Wilson - who, for those who don't know, was a liberal congressman from Texas in the late 1970s when the American government was flustered and frustrated by the Soviet Union's Afghani invasion. A career philanderer and boozer, Wilson was popular, suave, and internationally effective in foreign affairs. When prompted by the buxom, sharp-tongued Houston debutante Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) to covertly get the United States involved with the situation, Charlie convinces Congress to surreptitiously dedicate $5 million to helping the Afghans eject the Russians. The result is a tremulous relationship with the CIA over the situation, fronted by sharp-cracking, droll agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) - who tells Charlie that in order for the local freedom fighters, the Mujahideen, to shoot down the Russian helicopters that have been ravaging the country, the Afghans would need more money. Like, a lot more money.

Ultimately, Wilson managed to funnel over a billion dollars through the Defense Appropriation Subcommittee, resulting in an Afghani defense sufficient to push the Russians back and help end the Cold War - and an ironic twist to the fevered patriotism of Wilson and his friends as twenty years later those same missiles were turned against this country.

Nichols and scribe Aaron Sorkin (who deserves credit for some of this year's snappiest and most hysterical dialogue) largely focus on the fast-paced, largely unorthodox maneuvering of this small cadre of covert politicians - which in one memorable scene takes the form of a belly dancer brought in to distract top officials while an arms deal is quietly brokered. The film is dead funny at times, and exquisitely paced, skidding into a high-paced conclusion at 94 minutes.

Hanks and Roberts have a curious chemistry - to be blunt, I'm not sure I bought it. But they play dialogue like pros, drawling out foreign policy and rambunctious invective while glossing over depth of character. It's a tricky act, and even as the film unfolds it seems a little too witty to be entirely believable. Nonetheless, these are characterizations of real people, and if the film concludes by lauding their work to the exclusion of deriding its unfortunate results, it's difficult to lose respect for the artistry on hand. "Charlie Wilson's War" is marvelous filmmaking in every sense.

David Foucher is the CEO of the EDGE Media Network and Pride Labs LLC, is a member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, and is accredited with the Online Society of Film Critics. David lives with his daughter in Dedham MA.

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