Sunday, December 23, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bio-Pic Has Hanks as Texas Congressman Single-Handedly Toppling the Soviet Union

Have you ever hear of Congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), who served Texas’ 2nd District from 1973 to 1996? Neither had I, despite the fact that he was virtually single-handedly responsible for toppling the Soviet Union. Apparently, it was through his funding of a covert CIA operation in response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan that the mujahedeen managed to defend themselves successfully while simultaneously bankrupting the U.S.S.R.
What is ironic is that Wilson, the architect of the operation, was not only a liberal Democrat, but a loose cannon who didn’t let the fact that he was married get in he way of his boozing and womanizing. And among his many mistresses was socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), the sixth richest woman in his home state.
Their lustful liaison was proof of the age-old maxim that politics makes strange bedfellows, literally and figuratively, for she was a conservative, Christian fundamentalist who prevailed upon her well-connected boy-toy to get the CIA to intervene in the Middle East conflict in the name of freedom of religion. What neither of them anticipated, however, was that in the process of sending the Soviets to defeat they would be creating a new monster, a militarily-equipped radical Islam.
This is the arc of Charlie Wilson's War, a relatively lighthearted romp about a real-life James Bond. Fearless, suave and debonair, the film presents its misogynistic protagonist as very likable even though he hired his all-female staff members by breast size, because “You can teach ‘em to type, but you can’t teach ‘em to grow [T-words].”
Based on the best-selling biography of the same name by George Crile, the movie was faithfully adapted by Oscar-winner Mike Nichols (The Graduate), a director who has no problem delivering a warts-and-all depiction which has Charlie cavorting naked in a hot tub with coke-snorting strippers. For the message is clear, specifically, that the patriotic cad’s service to his country outweighs his countless sexual indiscretions.
Philip Seymour Hoffman turns in a typically-sound performance as second banana Gust Avrakotos, the CIA Agent through whom Wilson secretly funneled over a billion dollars to the Afghan freedom fighters. But make no mistake, this is a Tom Hanks vehicle, and the two-time Oscar-winner (for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump) is nothing short of inspired in the title role as a gun-running, skirt-chasing bon vivant.
Unless somebody’s taking liberties with the truth here, history will one day confirm that all it took to bring an end to the Cold War was the valiant efforts of an otherwise unprincipled party animal who knew his way around Washington well-enough to be unburdened by red tape, bureaucrats or democracy. Charlie Wilson, a real American hero, belatedly revealed.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity, nudity, sexuality and drug use.
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

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