May 16, 2008
Review - "Charlie Wilson's War" (on DVD) - By Roland Hansen
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Charlie Wilson's War
Directed by Mike Nichols
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Tom Hanks, Phillip Seymore Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams
The first words uttered by Philip Seymour Hoffman's character in "Charlie
Wilson's War" are "Excuse me, what the fuck?". No actor has had a better
opening line, and its unfiltered energy symbolizes everything that's right
with Mike Nichols' "Charlie Wilson's War".
"Charlie Wilson's War" is an account of how a playboy Democratic
congressman from Texas, a rough-mannered CIA agent and a Houston
socialite put their heads together to a billion dollars in military equipment
and aid to Afghanistan in the early to mid-1980s, after the country had
been invaded by the Soviet Union.
The story follows the left-wing Wilson, who is drawn into the whole project
by the extreme right wing and religious Joanne Herring played by Julia
Roberts. It distracts from the politic implications that the characters have
sexual chemistry. After all, Charlie is a womanizer and Joanne is sexy, rich,
Tom Hanks plays Wilson, the kind of slacker politico who thinks nothing of
sinking into a hot tub with a couple of strippers and a few accompanying
snorts of cocaine. Moral watchdogs who like their politicians to be pure will
be happy to see that this sort of behavior eventually gets him into trouble.
But as Hanks plays Wilson, it's thrilling to see him get away with it. He brings such charisma, emotion and fun to the role
that it was a pleasure to watch. Wilson is the sort of guy who peoples his office with buxom beauties for secretaries (he
wouldn't have called them administrative assistants). His motto is "You can teach 'em to type, but you can't teach 'em how
to grow tits".
The real genius here is Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who has two of the great character entrances of all time this year, here
and in “Before The Devil Knows You Are Dead”. The entrances alone are enough for Oscar nominations. And he just gets
better and better in both films. And it's no small thing that the character is the one pure truth-teller in the movie. It needed
more of that. Hoffman is the movie's finest effect. His character, Gust Avrakotos, comes from a Greek working-class family
in a Pennsylvania steel town, and he's a guy who, as you can guess from his first line, is perpetually annoyed and
discontented, and thus spurred to action. Tom Hanks is not far behind. Hanks' performance is boisterous and unmannered.
He puts on Charlie Wilson like a warm, old glove. It is a perfect fit. The hair is not forced (Davinci Code). The age is fitting.
And the quiet, modest charm is pure Hanks. He may not have class, but he does have a certain roguish style. Hanks is
solid, real, central. His best work since Cast Away. Real mature movie star stuff.
The rest of the recognizable cast, Amy Adams is working this "I love him ... I love him not" thing, Emily Blunt turns up for no
other reason than to look great in underwear and tanning lotion, and Mary Bonner Baker, Shiri Appleby, Rachel Nichols,
and Wynn Everett as "Charlie's Angels", an office staff of beauties, is another great idea that actually does come together.
Based on the true story of how Charlie Wilson, an alcoholic womanizer and Texas congressman, persuaded the CIA to train
and arm resistance fighters in Afghanistan to fend off the Soviet Union. With the help of rogue CIA agent, Gust Avrakotos,
the two men supplied money, training and a team of military experts that turned the ill-equipped Afghan freedom-fighters
into a force that brought the Red Army to a stalemate. Avrakotos and Wilson form an alliance that's uneasy at first, and the
scene in which they warily circle each other is played like mild slapstick. They're a Mutt and Jeff united by anti-Communist
sentiment. Hoffman's Avrakotos is a schleppy-looking guy, behind his yellow-tinted glasses but his eyes are always alert.
He's a misfit in a world of slick political operatives. Avrakotos doesn't see himself as a working-class hero, he's just a guy
who's trying to do his job, in a world of slackers who never think about what their job should be. Hoffman swears and curses
his way through the movie, as if he were looking for the most direct language possible to cut through the bullshit of politics.
"Charlie Wilson's War" shows the world of politics as one of crazy
characters, compromise and back door dealings. A little diplomacy
doesn't hurt, but when all else fails, maybe the only route is to use the
plainest language you can. There are days when only an "Excuse me,
what the fuck?" will do. It's a terrific story. Really showing how a cynical,
disconnected politician who drinks, drugs, and skirts his way through life
gets turned into an aggressive do-gooder who really changes the world
by pushing the U.S. into a covert war against the Russians. “Charlie
Wilson's War” is a perfect fit. It is a wonderful, misshaped, inspirational,
insipid mess and all around well made, good movie.
You will not have to walk out of "Charlie Wilson" unless you're looking for
one of the principles (Amy Adams, Emily Blunt or Julia Roberts) to help
you out in that matter. Although Julia comes close with a very sexy Bikini
scene, even at 4 months pregnant that woman has GOT it.