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Mike Nichols in finest form. I was not a fan of "Closer", so it's
refreshing to see him again right back on top with this comedy set in
the darkest of circumstances. Just one slip in tone could have wrecked
this compelling picture but Nichols and his very strong A-list cast
never put a foot wrong in this biopic of a deeply flawed but utterly
Philip Seymour Hoffman as usual is scintillating and brilliant - here playing a damaged but ultra-smart CIA manipulator, and it is in the exchanges between Hanks and Hoffman's characters where the comedy soars. Rarely is movie humour laugh-out loud and also smart... This hits the spot time after time with a biting satirical edge that makes you both laugh and weep at the state of the world (often simultaneously).
One other major plus is the length of the picture. The film is based on George Crile's fat book of the same title. The temptation for screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (his claim to fame is "The West Wing") must have been to make a fat movie, but what we get is a breath-taking 90 odd minutes of great story with sweeping implications.
This film deserves to be seen and to be recognized for finding an extraordinary balance between the darkest of dark subject matter and the lightness of touch of it's sparkling witty script - even if it does flunk the obvious link between the help that Herring and Wilson provide and the ultimate consequences (9/11).
It doesn't happen very often, but occasionally one man can make a
difference -- a big difference.
George Crile's 2003 best seller, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, is a fascinating and eye-opening account of the most unlikely "difference maker" imaginable. A relatively obscure Congressman from the Second District of Texas, "Good Time Charlie" was known more for his libertine lifestyle than his libertarian legislation. Likable and licentious (even for a politician), Charlie Wilson served his constituency well since the good folks of Lufkin only really wanted two things, their guns and to be left alone. It's Easy Street replete with his bevy of beltway beauties known, appropriately enough, as Charlie's Angels.
When asked why his entire office staff was composed of attractive, young aides his response is a classic, "You can teach 'em to type, but you can't teach 'em to grow tits." No argument there.
But even the most rakish rapscallion has a conscience lurking somewhere underneath, and for Charlie Wilson the unimaginable atrocities being committed in Afghanistan moved him to muster his entire political savvy toward funding the utter, humiliating defeat of the Russian military and, possibly, to even help hasten the end of the Cold War as a result. Fat chance, huh?
Under the skillful direction of Mike Nichols and a smart, snappy screenplay by Adam Sorkin, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR is a sparkling, sophisticated satire that chronicles the behind-the- scene machinations of three colorful characters comprising "Charlie's Team."
The on-screen "Team," is composed of three marvelous actors with four (4) Academy Awards and nine (9) nominations between them. Charlie is beautifully portrayed by Tom Hanks in a solid, slightly understated fashion that is among his best work in years. He's aided, abetted and abedded by Joanne Herring, a wealthy Houston socialite played by the still-slinky Julia Roberts. Hey, why else have the bikini scene than to let the world know this? By all accounts Ms. Roberts looks good and holds her own, but the screenplay never gives us even a hint why Kabul and country is so important to her character. Maybe the two Afghan hounds usually by her side know -- but we as an audience never do. As for the third member of the "Team," Philip Seymour Hoffman steals every scene he appears in as Gust Aurakotos, a smart, street- wise (i.e. non Ivy League graduate) CIA malcontent who knows the score -- both in the Agency's boardroom and in Wilson's bedroom.
For the Mujahideen to succeed, the most important assistance the U.S. can provide is the ability to shoot down the dreaded MI-21 helicopter gunships which rule the skies. This takes money, lots of money, and eventually "Charlie's Team" covertly coerces those in Congress to fund the effort to the tune of $1 billion dollars for advanced weaponry to arm the Afghan rebels. This includes top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets as well as other highly sophisticated killing devices. Nasty, nasty stuff.
That this kind of multi-billion dollar illicit activity can and does take place behind Congressional doors is truly alarming. Every American should see this movie or read this book because it reveals a truly frightening aspect of the business-as-usual political scene rarely seen outside the walls of our very own government. Oh momma, I wish it weren't so...
Even though the initial outcome for "Team Charlie" was an unqualified success, the unimaginable, unanticipated final result is that these sophisticated weapons are now used against our troops by the Taliban and others. Since the funding was entirely "covert," the young generation in this part of the world has no idea the fall of Soviet oppression and the end to Russian barbarity was the direct result of American intervention. Yes, once the Russkies left, so did our aid -- zip for schools, zip for infrastructure, zip on maintaining meaningful relationships with the Afghan people. As a result, the overall consequence is an unmitigated disaster -- it's like the forerunner to "Mission Accomplished."
As Nichol's film so pointedly points out, "The ball you've set in motion can keep bouncing even after you've lost interest in it." Mike Krzyzewski knows this, Eva Longoria Parker knows this, little Lateesha in Lafayette knows this, but the typical American politician doesn't. So we go from good guys to bad guys because we couldn't let the world know we were the good guys. Talk about a Catch-22 (another Mike Nichols film).
Perhaps Charlie Wilson said it best, "We f&%ked up the end game."
Told in flashback, the film opens in 1989 with Charlie being given
award for his role in the defeat of Communism. I must admit my heart
sank as at the thought of have to endure yet another earnest, somewhat
boring and overlong life story. How wrong was I, because that short
scene is as close as the film ever gets to boring.
The film is full of entertaining & amusing set ups and cracking dialogue in some of the most unexpected places. The next scene after the Awards ceremony is Charlie in a Hot-Tub with some naked women and a guy trying to get him to invest in a TV programme. Another rather amusing scene is about 3 quarters into the film comprises Charlie, a group of his rather sexy Secretaries, Phillip Seymour Hoffmans CIA Man and a bottle of Whisky. As to dialogue what about this for a line, "The Senator says, He can teach us to type but can't teach us to grow Tits.". OK, School-boyish I know but the film is laced with great lines.
As to performances well Phillip Seymour Hoffman as usual steals every scene he's in. Hanks is OK but surprisingly to me anyway was Julia Roberts who is very good in the role of a rather eccentric Texas Oil Millionairess.
Charlie Wilson's War is one of the best non Musician Bio-pics in a long while as well as being that rare thing a film that entertains, amuses as well as informs all in equal measure.
I like Tom Hanks, and he is one of few actors who will draw me into the
theatre regardless of any misgivings I may have concerning the film. I
worried about Mr. Hanks return to "light comedy" as this is the arena
where he made the transition from TV to film- remember "Big"? Well,
"Charlie Wilson's War" is not light comedy. It is political satire, and
extremely well-written political satire at that. The script is the star
of this film, and the word-smithing by Aaron Sorkin is some of the best
on offer this year.
Mike Nicols holds the entire escapade together, delivering a film that zips along in a very quick 90 minutes (timing is everything in comedy, and nothing is ever funny if it drags). Nicols' choice in sets and lighting are also very reminiscent of '70's and '80's TV, a move used deliberately to root the piece in period.
The return to the use of model work and stock photography over digital special effects also enhances the retro look and believability. Note to the production designers in your choice of stock footage: I know the difference between an F-16 and a MiG, and a Bell and a Hind. But that may have been part of the joke, too.
I saw this film in Philadelphia. It was interesting to watch and listen to the audience NOT get the historical references to their own history. History tends to repeat because the recidivists have forgotten what happened the first time around.
Kudos to both Mr. Hanks and that chameleon Phillip Seymore Hoffman. Sorkin's script is brought to life by these actors, and the entire production team is on the top of their game.
Charlie's Wilson's War demonstrates with deft veracity just how futile
wars can be, especially to the very people who spend countless hours
and finances to fund them. Virtuoso performances and remarkably
memorable characters teamed with a riotously sarcastic script catapult
the film, helmed by the continuously unpredictable Mike Nichols, to the
top of the year's best. Politics has never been so much fun.
Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is a Texas congressman who is credited with almost single-handedly winning the Cold War. Hanging around plenty of drugs, women and scotch, he also takes an unexpected interest in the events in Afghanistan and the terrors of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Enlisting the help of Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) a renegade CIA covert mission expert and Joanne (Julia Roberts), a wealthy socialite, he raises money to provide Afghanistan with the rocket launchers and antitank weaponry they need to cause serious damage to Russian military. Eventually by the end of the 80s the Cold War would come to an end, and the funds would immediately be cut, thereby removing all help for the fledgling country to rebuild and recoup.
The acting is exquisite, although it's to be expected from the more than accomplished cast. A large part of that however, should be attributed to the script, which allows each character to be undeniably well-developed and memorable. And a hearty helping of that credit goes to the novel of the same name, which is hilariously honest. Tom Hanks delivers yet another unequaled performance as Charlie Wilson, the man who did so much for so many and yet still remains relatively unknown. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Gust, a character that is vividly boffo in both his physicality and his wry cynicism; the inimitable Hoffman once again shows superb range in the characters he portrays. Julia Roberts is perhaps the only weak link of the film, with her generic snobbish character and not-subtle-enough accent. And then there's Wilson's "jailbait" squad of young secretaries that scamper about to keep him happy. Led by the always delightful Amy Adams, each supporting role has its mirthful moments.
Defeating the Soviet Union was not an easy task, especially considering the many conflicting goals between the various political leaders. "Why is Congress saying one thing and doing nothing?" queries a disgruntled politician. "Tradition mostly", returns Wilson. Everyone appears to want the Cold War to end, yet a blind eye is being turned to the atrocities taking place in Afghanistan. It takes a trip to the war-torn refugee camps in Pakistan to motivate Wilson, as well as with his main financial source Doc Long (Ned Beatty). Wilson uses strategic ties with committees to raise funding of weaponry in Afghanistan from $5 million to $10 million with a simple command, but the president of Pakistan scoffs at the idea of winning a war for such a trivial amount. By the end of the Wilson campaign, $1 billion is sent to the Mujahedin to shoot down Russian helicopters - the first step toward victory, as Wilson predicted. Beyond the scope of the film, the unresolved turmoil in Afghanistan led to further, less ignorable problems, which Wilson presumably foresaw.
During the course of Charlie Wilson's War, the main characters travel from the United States to Pakistan to Afghanistan to Jerusalem to Egypt, but wherever they go, sarcasm always follows. There's a surprising amount of comedy in the film, considering the political undertones are generally serious. Hoffman provides jokes with almost every exchange of dialogue, as does Hanks, with his naturally witty woman-chasing ideals. A scene early on featuring Gust being continually ushered in out of Wilson's office as he tries to straighten out a legal issue with his posse of gorgeous gals ("you can teach 'em to type, but you can't teach 'em to grow tits") reminds me of a slapstick routine from the Marx Brothers.
With the press focusing on the drug allegations against Wilson, instead of the important issues of the Cold War, and the conflicting desire of officials to budget their help, it's clear that by the end of the film, the politicians are still oblivious to what's really necessary. And since the screenplay is so quick-witted and astute, some audience members may not be able to keep up with all of the dialogue-intensive events. But, as demonstrated by the politicians who are ignorant as to the difference between Pakistan and Afghanistan, it's essentially another argument to support Charlie Wilson's point.
- Mike Massie
I quit watching "The West Wing" after Aaron Sorkin quit writing and
producing. It just wasn't the same. Imagine my thrill at seeing a film
that he wrote again. It has been a long time - The American President,
A Few Good Men. His script was a beautiful blend of humor and tragedy.
He made a compelling story believable, and made me weep at the same
Tom Hanks was incredible as a small-time Texas Congressman whose constituents only wanted lower taxes and to keep their guns. Not a hard job, so he had plenty of time to fool around - and that he did. His office staff looked as if he were at the Playboy Mansion. Like he reportedly said, "You can teach them to type, but you can't teach them to grow tits." Despite his sexist attitude, which fits right in with a Texas Congressman, they were fiercely loyal, especially his aide, Amy Adams (Junebug & former Hooters girl).
Now, add a rich Texas socialite who wants something done in Afghanistan, played perfectly by Julia Roberts; and a pain-in-his-boss's-ass CIA agent, superbly done by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and you have a movie well worth watching.
Outstanding writing, and superlative acting, and a story that needed to be told. What more do you want at the movies?
In one of the better movies of the year, Tom Hanks stars as Congressman
Charlie Wilson in this sardonically funny and extremely relevant (given
reasonably current events) historical comedy-drama surrounding the
1980s Afghan/Soviet fiasco. The Soviets were attacking Afghanistan
killing hundreds of people. Why should anyone care? People are dying,
right? No, the reason the United States got involved through Charlie
Wilson was because the Afghans, in fear they would get blown to sh_t,
started illegally coming into Pakistan which in turn p_ssed Pakistani
President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq off. Charlie Wilson in an effort to fix
this situation teamed up with the sixth richest woman and religious
fanatic in Texas, Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) and a amusing and
robust American spy for the CIA, Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour
Hoffman) to help supply Afghans with high-tech weapons to destroy
Soviet fight air-craft that would try and attack their land.
Although certainly not a serious Oscar contender for Best Picture, 'Charlie Wilson's War' is probably one of the best of the many political films of the year. Academy Award Winner Mike Nichols provides solid directing as to be expected while Emmy Award Winner Aaron Sorkin (Sport's Night, The West Wing) provides a remarkable screenplay that near-flawlessly balances comedy and drama. The acting is great for the most part as well. Tom Hanks delivers his best and most enjoyable performance since his 2000 Oscar-nominated turn as a FedEx worker stranded on a tropical island in 'Cast Away'. Hanks takes a slimy character like Wilson and with his trademark charm turns him into a likable guy. Amy Adams and Ned Beatty are reliable as always, but the real stand-out performance of the film is from Philip Seymour Hoffman. Arguably the finest actor working in the film industry today, Hoffman takes a small supporting role and upstages everyone around him. From his first scene where he's screaming at his boss before violently breaking his window, Hoffman sucks you in. The only disappointing cast member is unsurprisingly overrated Hollywood starlet Julia Roberts. Hamming her way through yet another movie, Roberts' overbearing and over-the-top portrayal of a rich Texas oil woman hits all the wrong notes and is at most times flat-out annoying. At 97 minutes, the movie is short and sweet, and that isn't to say it doesn't drag at some points but when it does drag it's for a very brief amount of time.
In conclusion, 'Charlie Wilson's War' is not a perfect film by any means, but it's certainly worth a look. Grade: B+
Aaron Sorking raises the same questions as Shakespeare did or does. How could they possibly know so much about the inner workings of palace life. Here like in The West Wing, Sorkin opens surprising doors that are hardly a shock but seem ton confirm our worst fears. Everything is so casual and at the same time so directly responsible for so many people's lives. A puffy Tom Hanks tells us one way or another that things can be manipulated with semi pure intentions but without weighing the consequences and Julia Roberts in a blond southern hairdo reminds us of the powers harbored in the sidelines. The subject is serious but the treatment is light, intelligent but light. Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the invisible middle man, steals every scene he is in, just like Charles Laughton did in every movie he was in.The dialogue is fast but not fast enough for us not to catch up and discover that this is not an ordinary comedy. The seemingly casual pace filled with strokes of wit and provocation grants another badge of honor in the Mike Nichol's collection.
SPOILER - This film gives away plot points and discusses the ending. I hated this film - mostly for political reasons, but also for moral and aesthetic reasons. Politically, this film glorified war and military technology - blowing things up real good. We are led to cheer as the music swells and the Afghans use our weapons to blow the Ruskies to bits. And no U.S. soldiers put their lives on the line - so it's a fun war. Aesthetically, there isn't a touch of real human emotion in the film, just smug, privileged people being sarcastic, feeling superior, and doing whatever they want regardless of the consequences. And speaking of consequences, the film only makes a few small hints at what the arming of the Afghans actually led to. I had read an earlier draft of this script, and it ended on 9/11 - with Charlie Wilson realizing that things had gone horribly wrong. But that wouldn't leave the audience feeling good. This is a feel good movie about killing Ruskies. And it made me sick.
This film is unbelievably biased. It is pure anti-Soviet cold-war drivel and it is historically inaccurate. Robert Gates says that the CIA began giving aid to Islamic fighters in Afghanistan months **before** the Soviet invasion. Jimmy Carter signed an order on July 3, 1979 to give aid to the Mujahedeen. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap. "The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border," Zbigniew wrote to President Carter, ...we gave to the USSR its Vietnam War". Charlie Wilson's importance is wildly blown way out of proportion. The real-life Wilson had always been a right wing government good-old-boy who liked war. He was a commie-hating cold-war warrior. In the film we are lead to think that Wilson was simply a good time loving, womanizing, good old boy Congressman that never really grew up until he saw in person poor Afghan refugees: themselves poorly drawn caricatures of Afghan citizens. At this moment in the film Wilson changed and found a righteous cause. Born again Charlie!! Pure Hollywood nonsense! The real Wilson was not a nice guy. He was a friend of Nicaraguan tyrant Anastasio Samoza. Wilson's buddy in the movie (Philip Seymour Hoffman's character) is based on the CIA operative Gust Avrakotos. Army colonels led a coup in Greece in the 1960s; Avrakotos was the CIA main contact with the totally horrible fascist regime. Avrakotos fled Greece in the late 70s, with a very nasty reputation. The consequences of this cold war game are ignored by this crappy Hollywood movie. The weapons the U.S. supplied the Mujahedeen were used to wage a lengthy, bloody civil war in Afghanistan. Reagan's claim that the Afghan fighters were the moral equivalent of America's founding fathers is absurd. More brainless propaganda. Half the CIA money went to the monster Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, who in his youth threw acid in the face of an unveiled women. The CIA and US government would ally with anybody against the USSR. The terrorists received Stinger missiles, US Army training, and lots of money. The Taliban and the group that came to be known as Al-Qaida came from the Afghan civil war and were taught by the USA how to fight. There was little real concern for the fate of Afghanistan and its people. Washington never cared about the Afghan people in the first place ... and they still don't care. They are just pawns in The Great Game. The movie is a formulaic cliché, with it's warped fixation on the importance of the individual and its disregard for facts. Most Americans -- and reviewers here -- apparently take movies like this seriously, but this kind of crap makes the USA a joke to the rest of the world.
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