December 24, 2007

Movie Review: Charlie Wilson's War

To those of you who follow my reviews (hello? anybody?) you will know that I am not a politically minded person. So, as often as heavy duty, or even not so heavy, political comments are made, I tend to either not get them or ignore them unless they are in direct service of the plot. Why do I mention this? Well, Charlie Wilson's War is a film that is steeped in politics, specifically the events that led to the fall of the Soviet Union following their defeat at the hands of Afghan freedom fighters in the 1980's. Decidedly political content. While, the plot was as easy to follow as an open book, I am afraid I likely missed what was going between the lines as far as modern allegory goes. I am sure there is more to the film than meets the eye. Fortunately, for those (like myself) who do not always see between the lines, there is plenty here to see that is not hidden behind a veil of secrecy, not to mention entertaining performances from most of the players involved.

Prior to Charlie Wilson's War I had never heard of Representative Charles Wilson from Texas' 2nd District. Why would I? I avoid politics as a matter of course and am not a resident of Texas (I don't even know who my representative is right now). That said, I felt that I learned a bit about my nation's history with this movie. Now before you go and get any crazy ideas, I am not taking everything presented at face value. When it comes to "based on true events" type flicks out of Hollywood (or anywhere for that matter) you have to take it with a grain of salt and realize that there was likely a good deal of exaggeration and outright change to make the story more cinematically appealing. I feel relatively safe in saying that the big picture of the film is true and that the changes apply mainly to details in between the big beats.

The past few months have brought with them a few films that draw their inspiration from the current war in the Middle East. By and large they have been ignored as filmmakers just don't want to see these stories on the big screen, no matter how much action they have (The Kingdom), how "important" they want to be (Rendition), or their star power (Lions for Lambs). Charlie Wilson's War could very well end up in the same camp, but there are a couple of significant differences, despite sharing perceived star power of its predecessor. The biggest difference is that it steps the war story back in time, focusing on events that could be seen as a direct precursor to what is going on today. The other would be the inclusion of a healthy dose of comedy.

It is the comedy that helps this film succeed. The liberal sprinkling of laughs help make the important ideas go down a little easier. While the comedy will make you laugh out loud, it is not gratuitous and only serves the film, meaning it is not there to distract from the plot. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (working from the novel of the same name by George Crile) does an excellent job of blending the comedy with the drama in such a way that you are held at attention all the way through.

By know you may be wondering just what Charlie Wilson's War is about. Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is a fun loving, hard drinking, Congressman who seems to be well liked by his constituency but hasn't really done anything of note, content to remain under the radar. However, he comes to a point where he wants to make his voice known, and that comes when the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. He is approached by a wealthy member of his district, Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), who wishes to make a mark herself. So, off Charlie goes to Pakistan, along with his ever present aide Bonnie (Enchanted's Amy Adams), to meet with the military dictator. It is during this visit that he becomes most determined to help.

Long story short, he meets with CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Together they set in motion a plan that will get much needed weaponry into the hands of the Mujahideen. To this point, the Afghan freedom fighters were essentially attacking the invading Red Army with slingshots and peashooters. Now what they did was more than get them the weapons. You see, it was not quite as simple as sending a box of guns. The Cold War was in full effect and the Afghans could not be caught with American guns, lest the Cold War escalate. However, Israel had a stockpile of Soviet made weapons, and Charlie and Gus manage to get Israel to work with Pakistan to get those weapons into the hands of the Afghans.

All of that happens and the results include the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. All of that is well and good, but out of the ashes of the Afghan victory emerged the Taliban, and we all know how well that turned out. If the ending of this conflict was handled differently, we could have a very different worldwide landscape today. But this is all history, hindsight is 20/20 and all that.

So, what makes this so good? Quite simply, it is a combination of a few factors. First off would have to be the quick-witted, fast paced, and intelligent script from Aaron Sorkin (his first film since 1995's The American President). The second factor would be the strong cast including Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and others to deliver said dialogue. Finally there is director Mike Nichols to pull everything together.

Charlie Wilson's War is funny and frightening at the same time. In some ways I found it similar to Across the Universe in that they both depict a story where people stepped up to do something meaningful. The characters saw something going on in the world that spurred them to action. Something that seems to happen too little currently, with more people content to sit and watch reality television than become educated on current events or take a stand for what they believe in (I am as guilty of this as the next guy). Charlie Wilson stood up and fought for what he believed was the right thing to do. He did this to the very end, and what an ending it is. That is where the frightening implications arise. Inplications I will not give away here.

Bottomline. This is a good movie, easily the most entertaining of the latest wave of war-themed films. Tom Hanks delivers a great performance, while Philip Seymour Hoffman steals many scenes with his dry wit and barely contained rage. Then there is Amy Adams who is a star on the rise. This is well worth the time to see on the big screen.



Post a Comment