Monday, 21 January 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

Charlie Wilson's War tells the fascinating true story of a sex, drug and booze fuelled politician during the cold war. Tom Hanks plays the role of US senator Charlie Wilson who, encouraged by wealthy socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), seeks to save Afghanistan from Soviet invasion during the cold war. With the support of US spy, Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Wilson supplies the Afghans with the means to fight back against the USSR, with unknown and far-reaching effects.

Aside from the colourful character of womanising politician Charlie Wilson, the film presents an array of interesting individuals. Joanne Herring is a mature, attractive and seductive socialite, who uses her sexuality to convince Charlie that the war in Afghanistan is wrong. Fuelled initially by his lust, Wilson becomes convinced he has to make a difference when he witnesses the reality of war on ground level.

His desire to make a difference becomes reality when he gains the support of Gust Avrakotos, the spy played with a subtle deadpan drawl by Philip Seymour Hoffman. The highlight of the film had to be Hoffman entering and exiting Wilson's office several times in a row, ushered in and out on Wilson's request, as he attempted to cover up his latest scandal. It was comedy of a slapstick nature that wouldn't have looked out of place in a Carry On film, but was saved from becoming farce by the witty exchange shared between Hanks and Hoffman.

West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin including Hanks, Roberts, Hoffman and also the star of the Disney film Enchanted, Amy Adams, assembled a fine cast for the film. Even with all of the characters and superstars involved it was Hoffman who stole every scene, with his witty one-liners exposing a glint in his eye that's only evident in the most able of actors.

The rest of the film, besides Hoffman, is also worthy of praise. Hoffman undoubtedly brought out the best in Tom Hanks as the two heavyweights bounced off each other producing some great comic moments. Julia Roberts retained her usual level of performance, but never really looked to soar beyond any role she has previously played. The waste of Amy Adams in the role of Wilson's personal assistant was perhaps the most disappointing casting, as she was rarely given the opportunity to flex her acting muscles.

As Wilson sought to aide Afghanistan and its defence against Soviet invasion he made a huge and possibly telling contribution towards ending the Cold War, but perhaps created a longer term problem for the Western world. The message carried throughout the film, but cleverly shrouded in sarcasm and satirical dialogue, is the futility of war. The undertones of more recent events attributed to Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden are still present, if not directly mentioned.

The cheesy American way of packaging this could've been 'any one man can make a difference', but then I think many of us would've been violently sick. Instead Charlie Wilson's War is simply content to tell its own story, allowing the cast and the eccentric characters to bring it to life with wit and humour not normally associated with war. I feel it was certainly a valiant effort by director Mike Nichols to produce the kind of political movie that Hollywood is often accused of avoiding.

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