Review: Charlie Wilson’s War

In this supposed true story, Tom Hanks plays the title beer-swillin’, hard-partying, womanising Liberal Democrat Texas congressman who (after seeing a Dan Rather piece on “60 Minutes” about the Afghan vs. Soviet struggle) joins a blustery but smart CIA agent named Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and (amazingly) a brassy, staunch right-wing, well-connected socialite (Julia Roberts) in getting involved in the Afghanistan situation during the early 1980s. Wilson and co. are instrumental in arming the Afghani Freedom Fighters against the dreaded Russkies. Covertly, of course. Amy Adams is Wilson’s ever-faithful secretary (just about the only woman he hasn’t slept with), Om Puri plays the Pakistani President whom Wilson meets with.

2007 Mike Nichols (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, “The Graduate”, “Primary Colours”) political film with humorous touches isn’t nearly as interesting or successful as everyone involved seems to think. Maybe it’s an American thing, but I found the film somewhat uneventful and irrelevant, at least to me. It’s not just because the whole US-Arab relations thing has changed over the years. I actually think that at just over 90 minutes, it’s far too insubstantial, and ultimately extremely disappointing.

Hanks, in a moderately cast-against-type role, is pretty good. Billy Bob Thornton or Jeff Bridges would’ve been even better, whereas Hanks never quite gives us anything beneath Charlie’s good ‘ol boy charming exterior- fun as that is. A seriously wax-like, facially immobile Roberts is truly ghastly, and her bikini scene is both surprisingly unappealing and completely superfluous. What the hell has happened to her in the last two decades to make her so grumpy-looking? She looks like she’d rather be anywhere else but in this film, and not for the first or last time. Thank God for Hoffman, who manages to walk off with the whole film, in an energetic, hilarious performance that deserved more recognition than it received at the time (his entrance is hysterically funny). Amy Adams is a little ray of sunshine too, in an underdeveloped but likeable role that showed a little of things to come from her.

I dunno, I just didn’t see much of interest or importance going on here (even Hanks’ scoundrel pollie has been done before, most notably by John Travolta as the Bill Clinton-esque president in Nichols’ vastly superior “Primary Colours”), and it all went by far too breezily. Yesterday’s freedom fighters became today’s terrorists, and the Yanks were responsible for giving ‘em the firepower...we all know the drill by now, the only thing I was unaware of was Wilson’s actual role in it and that wasn’t enough to interest me entirely.

This should’ve been a lot better, given the pedigree involved. The mix of comedy and drama isn’t quite right here either, it’s a little off-balance. That’s strange with the screenplay coming from the usually reliable Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”, and TV’s “The West Wing”, wherein snappy one-liners fit perfectly with the more dramatic stuff), from a book by George Crile.

Rating: C+


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