Charlie Wilson's War
- Mike Nichols
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Monday, March 17, 2008
Though the story of Charlie Wilson is not exactly that of a man who didnít need to show off, it turned out like that, as he became that, mainly thanks to circumstance but finally on account of conscience, righteousness and responsibility. Texan Congressman Wilson found himself in the midst of such important issues that he considered, as few politicians ever do, that caring about the world first and himself second would be smart. It wasnít, not for a while, but it finally paid off in history. Many years later, his story came out, documented in a book by George Crile, which was revealing to say the least. Itís disconcerting for a country to know the gritty-gritty of an international negotiation mainly attributed to World Leaders. The fact that a small man, known to few, was way more important in the goings-on is not only crucial to world knowledge but also eye-opening in the sense that it makes us realize the power of one, the strength of the small, and the influence of each. Charlie Wilson definitely wasnít all that unimportant, himself already a congressman of strong influence, but even he never imagined the lengths to which he could go. His story is impressive and inspiring, and yet, as he probably would have it, itís not altogether glorified.
It would be out of place to portray Charlie Wilson as an American hero. Even the scenes that somehow present him as such seem obligatory, strictly there because they happened and somehow remote, and I think that was on purpose. The true story is what matters and thatís what the movie is about, seeing how and why Charlie Wilson got involved in the Soviet-Afghan war and what it meant to the world as we now know it. If world-wide communication wasnít available nowadays perhaps Charlie Wilson would be known, if at all, a century from now, as a modern Davy Crocket, more legendary than real. Or perhaps we would have learned from him as a Robin Hood of sorts, more folkloric than human, the kind of antihero who finally succumbed to the cause and earned his place in loving memory. Heís got a little of Davy Crocket and a tad of Robin Hood but heís real and heís alive and itís outstanding to see a biopic that shows us what he represents and realize that heís a living hero who deserves more praise than the official heroes weíre supposed to admire.
I didnít put much thought into Tom Hanks playing this man because I didnít know what to expect and I trusted his talent would result in a Wilson who is a flawed human being instead of a squeaky-clean righteous cowboy who just did things right. The outcome is well-worth applause. Hanks lowers his defenses and loosens up a bit and turns out completely amiable and empathic in the title role. This congressman didnít mind having a good time but also cared to do things right and was good at his work. It seems to me that he never took anything too seriously until he found himself with strong responsibility in his hands as he learned that his participation in the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee allowed him to increase the support given to Afghans during the war. During a moving speech, he narrates how losing his dog pushed him into politics. Even as he talks about that, it seems that he realizes the importance of what heís seeing when putting it in a global perspective. Itís awesome.
In learning, thanks to his friend and millionaire socialite Joanne Herring, that the power he held in his hands meant much more than it seemed by definition, he decided to take action, and did so with admirable skill, negotiating among nations and managing to get weapons for the Afghans that didnít come from the Americans so as to not wake up the Sovietsí rage and prevent the cold war from becoming a real war, while in fact this was the decisive battle. As a result, the Soviet Union was defeated for the first time, resulting in a domino effect that ended up in its disintegration.
One canít say Wilson did this single-handedly of course, but itís true that he was the main man responsible. Herring helped a lot, as did a CIA bad boy called Gust Avrakotos, who ended up working with Wilson by chance and, lucky for him, found in the Texan exactly what he had been looking for. Herring and Avrakotos aided Wilson in a decisive way, and happily the film gives them enough weight to prove it. Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman are cast in these pivotal roles, to contrasting results. While Roberts gives a good performance, her character is cold and, after a while, unnecessary, and she doesnít give it anything extra to make it worthwhile. Hoffman, on the other hand, is absorbing from the get-go and till the end in the juiciest role. Heís perfection in delivering his lines, having a strong presence, and affecting the story without getting in the way. Though heís a scene-stealer, he manages to glorify what heís in without wanting to take all the credit, the same as the real Avrakotos did. And in doing so, Hoffman becomes the best actor in the piece, his performance being one of the best of 2007.
Another strong performance even if the role is rather banal is that of the lovely Amy Adams, who continues to become a strong screen presence. As the main assistant to Wilson, she does exactly what this man wanted his aides to do: look good and be brilliant. The bunch of them, called the ďCharlieís AngelsĒ, add some comedy relief to the procedures. Itís one more of the elements that make this film so light while dealing with such a strong subject. When the film wants to get crude, it does, but itís necessary and welcome, so thereís no problem there. If I had to pinpoint a flaw in the film, which I do because Iím not rating it perfectly, is that even though itís necessarily unpretentious it subdues itself too much and seems to not only not dig but probably even elude the seriousness of the situations. So much so that when things are dealt with that way in the end itís off-putting. The result is that Charlie Wilson is still rather an unmemorable historical character. But hey, heís got his movie, and with such a tight, fun but conscious script by Aaron Sorkinís, itís really hard to fault it.
In the theater, during the show, two young women were chatting near my seat, which was definitely obnoxious. I kept thinking they could learn a lot from the ďCharlieís AngelsĒ. I wanted to ask them to be quiet, which I usually do in this kind of situation, but I couldnít turn away from the screen! I kept telling myself Iíd ask them in the next scene, or the next, or the next, and suddenly I had forgotten all about them, even though I could still hear them between scenes, but thereís so much thatís said which is important and/or entertaining that you just canít miss it. Thatís the lightning pace that I love, and much of it is owed to editor Stephen Goldblatt. James Newton Howardís score also has to do with this, because it follows the pace with the same intensity though it never takes first chair. And if I may close with a Charlie Wilson-esque comment, which would also conform to the movieís mild seriousness, I think it wouldíve all been worthwhile anyway, because I saw Emily Blunt half-naked.
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Charlie Wilson's War
- Mike Nichols
- Reviewed by
- Josť Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is a hard-partying Texas congressman who is convinced by rich socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) to visit Pakistan to witness how the Afghan people have desperately fled from their country after the Soviet Union invaded them. With the help of CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) they support a covert operation to get weapons for Afghanistan with the help of Israel, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
The great Mike Nichols directed from a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, based on George Crile book that chronicles the real story of what Charlie Wilson managed to do in the 80ís which was, literally, help defeat Americaís then-enemy without anyone really noticing. I am pretty sure thereís much more to the story than what the movie chronicles, but as it is we get a pretty clear picture of the goings-on of the time and what these three people accomplished almost single-handedly by themselves.
Charlie Wilsonís War reminded me of MASH (1970) in more ways than one... and thatís a good thing. They both share a seriocomic tone while telling very somber stories about a very grim subject matter: war. The trick is in finding the right tone to get away with it, and both Sorkin and Nichols nail it. Scene after scene the information provided is plentiful, yet the apparently light tone and rapid pace make it all move like a ticking clock without ever giving the idea that too much is going on, which it is. A particularly brilliant scene has Charlie conferring with Gust for the first time while he keeps being interrupted by his Charlieís Angels-like assistants who bring some bad news; the comic-timing and choreography in it are down-right perfect, so much so that itís easy to notice that both threads are dealing with immensely important issues that are not to be taken carelessly at all.
The dialogue is crisp and the interaction between the three main characters is heaven. I couldíve stayed with them for many more hours and never get tired of it. Theyíre all fascinating people who do fascinating things and keep delivering fascinating lines. And just when you think the movie could not get more poignant comes the ending, which leaves a bittersweet aftertaste in light of what we all know happened afterwards and which is still going on.
Only scene that made me go ďuh, uhĒ is when the first chopper is put down; Nichols lost touch with the rest of the movieís tone and went too broad with it. But apart from this, the flick remains consistently in check with what it tries to do from the get-go.
Tom Hanks plays against-type as a man of many flaws but with two things going for him: charisma and determination. It was pivotal that we could identify with the character despite his shortcomings and Hanks was just the right guy to do it. Philip Seymour Hoffman steals every scene heís in with the deadpan delivery of his profanity-laced dialogue; heís a hoot. Julia Roberts does not appear as much as one might expect, but when sheís onscreen she glows and truly brings it. Amy Adams has a welcomed appearance as Wilsonís faithful assistance, and so does Emily Blunt in just a couple of scenes. It was also good to see Ned Beatty in top form.
ďYou know you've reached rock bottom when you're told you have character flaws by a man who hanged his predecessor in a military coup.Ē
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