Charlie Wilson’s War
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Mike Nichols
scr Aaron Sorkin
with Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Ned Beatty, Om Puri, Emily Blunt, Rachel Nichols, Ken Stott, Christopher Denham, John Slattery, Shaun Toub
release US 21.Dec.07,
UK 11.Jan.08
07/US Universal 1h35
Charlie Wilson's War
Covert action: Hanks and Hoffman

roberts adams blunt

Charlie Wilson's War Based on an amazing true story, this fascinatingly intricate political romp is nimbly filmed by Nichols and his sparky cast. But the script is perhaps a bit too intelligent for its own good.

In 1980, Texan Congressman Charlie Wilson (Hanks) is a notorious playboy who enjoys the power of Capitol Hill. Then a friend and major donor (Roberts) asks him to help the 5 million Afghan refugees gathering in Pakistan to escape the Russian invasion. Once he sees them firsthand, he starts the ball rolling, working with straight-talking CIA operative Gust Avrakotos (Hoffman) to get the Pakistani, Israeli and Egyptian governments to cooperate to secretly arm the Afghan rebels against the communists.

The freewheeling tone helps get us through the extremely dense dialog, which often addresses two or three topics at once. The best sequence has Wilson juggling two crises, with his "jailbait" army of leggy model assistants ably managing a sex-and-drugs scandal while he and Gust discuss Afghanistan. These kinds of scenes make the film both thrillingly brainy and hilariously inventive. And there are astute jabs at the government ("Why is Congress saying one thing and doing nothing?" "Tradition, mostly.") and a press that's so easily distracted from the real story by anything involving sex.

All of the actors clearly relish the film's fast and busy pace, smart dialog and vivid characterisations. Hanks is a tightly wound bundle of energy bouncing off everyone he meets, while Hoffman grabs hold of the film's best dialog to create a truly memorable movie scene-stealer. And Adams and her sexy colleagues are terrific. By comparison, Roberts seems to be barely in the film as a Texas socialite with more power than anyone suspects, including Charlie.

The film is bookended with a scene in which Charlie is honoured by the intelligence agencies for his role in the Soviet Union's collapse, a direct result of their humiliation in Afghanistan. After watching the whole story, the return to this scene has real power, especially since it's so bravely understated, resting on Hanks' quietly expressive face and leaving us to connect the dots to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Audiences that fail to make this link will understandably wonder what the point is.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 5.Dec.07

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2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall