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When it comes to a sheer amount of fortitude, Charlie Wilson’s aiding of the Mujahedeen in their war against the Soviet Union ranks amongst the most brazen maneuvers a politician could ever pull off. Unknown for many years, but speculated upon for just as many, the ability of a relatively unknown Congressman from Texas to pull off one of the largest insurgent aid operations in the history of the world is a markedly fascinating story to read in “Charlie Wilson’s War.” And like every fascinating read, a fascinating movie comes out. This one just happens to have Tom Hanks in the lead.
Charlie Wilson (Hanks) was a Congressman of no significance in 1980, known for his alcohol indulgence and hard partying, when he saw a 60 Minutes piece about the brutal occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviets. After visiting the country himself, as well as some encouragement by Houston socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), Wilson joined forces with an unorthodox CIA Agent (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to supply an unseemly amount of money and armaments to the Afghani Muslims. Resulting in the defeat of the Red Army, and the tipping point to the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S involvement in the takedown was largely speculation and rumor until recently. Charlie Wilson’s War explores this period of time with the sort of razor sharp wit that only Aaron Sorkin can provide.
The film’s strength is in its comedy, surprisingly, as Sorkin’s script infuses a large amount of comedy to the proceedings. The film has some of the year’s best comedic moments, as Hoffman and Hanks trade one-liners on a fairly regular basis to a highly entertaining degree. It’s the film’s chief strength, as Hanks and Hoffman are skilled enough to keep the film’s dramatic pulse going while trading some terrific barbs with one another. They have instant chemistry with one another beyond merely being two Oscar winners on the same screen. These are two actors who work together well and it shows instantly.
It’s Hoffman who turns in the scene-stealing performance of the film, upstaging Hanks unintentionally throughout the film. It was the on that nominated him for an Oscar, and it’s the strongest of one of the best years of any actor in recent memory due to strong performances in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and The Savages. Gust is a CIA agent who knows that this is his last, best shot at running the sort of covert operation he’s been preparing for his whole career. Hanks is his usual solid self, even with the Southern twang taking down his performance a notch, but it’s Hoffman who turns in the best performance of the film and easily one of the best of the year.
And while Hoffman is magnificent, the film suffers from the fact that at times it uses too much comedy that it takes away from the inherent drama of the film. Sorkin’s script is top notch in building the story but there’s such a high volume comedy in it that the film’s drama tends to melt away at times. There’s too much of the film that feels like it’s setting up for a punch line or a gag and not enough setting up a good plot point.
In a year where political films were bland, Charlie Wilson’s War is a fascinating look at some of the events that helped fuel the world’s situation today.
Presented in a Dolby Digital surround with a widescreen format, the DVD has a splendid transfer. This is a film with a lot of great scoring and visuals; they come through wonderfully on DVD. This is a disc that really takes advantage of the format.
The Making of Charlie Wilson’s War focuses on the making of the film. Sorkin was apparently inspired to get involved in making the film after having read the book which inspired the screenplay. Bringing Hanks on board after that was easy, apparently as he thought the material was fascinating enough to jump right in and attach himself to this project. Hanks, Roberts and Hoffman all join in on discussing why they stepped in and are joined by the real life Charlie Wilson and Joanne Herring in discussing Charlie Wilson’s War. It runs roughly 17 minutes.
W ho is Charlie Wilson? is a biographical piece about the Congressman whom the film was based on. A larger than life character, the piece follows Wilson’s actual story in how he got involved in Afghanistan, et al. It’s an absolutely fascinating piece, blending bits of the movie as well as real-life footage from the era to tell the story about how a lesser known Congressman managed to supply billions in the effort that beat the famed Soviet Army.
With political films largely resembling extended political commercials expounding upon Hollywood’s political ideology, Charlie Wilson’s War is refreshing if only for its ability to entertain while being about politics.
Universal Pictures presents Charlie Wilson’s War. Directed by Mike Nichols. Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams. Written by Aaron Sorkin. Running time: 100 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: April 22, 2008. Available at Amazon.com