Charlie Wilson's War
Director: Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Catch-22, Working Girl, Closer)
Novel: George Crile
Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin
Producers: Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks
Starring: Tom Hanks, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 97 min
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reviewed by Andrew James
      What would you get if you took several Oscar winning actors (and one who shouldíve won - Iíll never let that go), put them under the direction of an Oscar winning director and then gave them a script by an Emmy winning sceenwriter? You get a pretty solid entry in the list of good films to come out of what is likely the strongest year for movies in half a decade, thatís what.

      The ďtrueĒ story of Charlie Wilson (Hanks) is an easy, albeit interesting, tale to tell. A congressman from Texas known for his interest in women chasing and good Scotch rather than his leadership qualities or political ambition. In the early 80ís that quickly changes after meeting with a wealthy Texas oil woman (Roberts) who wants to help him defeat the Communist Russians invading Afghanistan, thereby effectively taking another step in winning the cold war. After a trip to the Afghan refugee camp, his ambition takes over and heíll stop at nothing to appropriate funds and gain support in running a covert war against the Russians.

      Enter Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his hat-trick performance of 2007. Hoffman plays Gust Avrakotos, a hard talking and brash CIA operative who is so good at his job that he has trouble finding work since heís so incredibly covert and hard nosed. After walking away from his superior in an unusually harsh manner, he hooks up with two other secret agents to analyze and interpret how to fight a war against the Russians if they just had the money and supplies. Inevitably, this group meets with Wilson and so begins the real meat of the story: how to fight a war against a super-power, but make sure no one knows about it.

      The trailer is probably what irks me the most about this film. Number one, it portrays the film as a comedy. And to be fair in a lot of ways, it is a comedy; but the funniest parts are all given away within said trailer, so aside from one or two quick sequences, youíve seen the funny parts. And whatís with the 60ís nostalgia film soundtrack? Itís not to be found anywhere in the film and this movie isnít about Vietnam, itís about the cold war in the 1980ís. But I digressÖ

      The story takes some time in getting started. Nichols really takes his time setting up who these characters are and the scenario in which weíll find them. Itís not exactly boring, but it does seem to drag just a bit; however necessary as it is. But as I said, this film does stand on pretty solid ground. Once the story gets to itís meatier sections, itís a fairly interesting tale about some American foreign relations history that I only had a vague understanding of.

      In the start, I was a little nervous that the movie might get a bit too much into the politically preachy realm and while there is a tiny bit of that, it really treads nicely on this potentially thin ice. Nichols uses a master stroke and gives a political film without being too political. With that being said, the filmís message is obvious and relevant. What we do that might seem like a good idea in the short run, might come back to bite us in the future if not carefully nurtured. Iíve actually been thinking about it quite a fair bit in the past 12 hours and think the film is full of important messages; ironically enough, some of them conflicting with one another (such is the case in the complicated world of covert operations and foreign relations).

      The performances are, as expected, top notch. While Hanks has been doing some fairly mediocre work in the past few years, he finally gets back on track here with a decent role and in a lesser year, possibly Oscar worthy. While Roberts adds a big name to the cast list, sheís not really in the film all that much to be worthy of much comment (she does look darn nice though). Then thereís Amy Adams, whoís got a fairly minimal role in this picture, but is just on the cusp of reaching full-blown super-stardom and itís easy to see why when she delivers as well as she does even in smaller, though still important, roles. The screen stealer here is, not surprisingly, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. His sleazy look and vocal qualities along with his harsh, dry wit captures our attention just about every second heís on screen. It doesnít take a rocket scientist to see that Hoffman will be up for an Oscar this year. The question is, for which of his three roles will it be? Each is excellent and worthy of such recognition.

      As much as there is to praise about the film and very little to fault it for, it will mostly go the way of the forgotten. It will likely see a performance or two nominated at the Oscars and maybe some screenplay love, but without a best picture nod, no one will talk about this film again six months from now; which is a real shame, because it has a lot going for it. Although I must admit, as much as I liked it, its re-watch value is curiously low. The caliber of the talent involved raises the bar a bit as far as expectations go; and the time of year that itís been released is a bit of a head-scratcher. Still, as far as adult-oriented dramas with a smart script go, youíre going to be hard pressed to find much better right now than Charlie Wilson. The Hoffman performance alone makes this virtually a must-see for any Oscar afficionados.

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