Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Ned Beatty, Emily Blunt
Directed by: Mike Nichols
When this was released, I was surprised at how little fanfare it received. It wasn’t that long ago that a Tom Hanks/Julia Roberts prestige pic collaboration would’ve been the biggest movie news of the season, if not the year. Obviously, the shine has come off of each’s star, to varying degrees, but I think this also illustrates something about our current cinematic atmosphere. Movie stars don’t sell like they used to, and studios would rather push known properties (like sequels, adaptations, and remakes), or awards contenders. It’s not just the general public either; I wasn’t all that psyched to see this movie, even though Hanks generally puts out a good product, Philip Seymour Hoffman is always good, and there was a time when all I would’ve needed to hear was “Aaron Sorkin script” and I’d be there opening weekend (that time was pre-Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip).
Now that I’ve seen the film, it turns out the lack of fanfare was justified. It’s not that Charlie Wilson’s War is a bad movie. It’s actually fairly entertaining, featuring the sort of amiable Hanks leading performance that made him famous, the snappy dialogue that made me a fan of Sorkin, a solid movie-star role for Roberts, and a strong supporting performance by Hoffman. The movie moves briskly while telling the interesting true story of Democratic Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, the key figure in arming the Afghan Mujahideen during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, assuming a lighter comedic tone that makes it the sort of movie I can see being a staple on TBS or some network like it for years to come, and the sort of film that you’ll find yourself watching when it comes on.
But despite its overall quality, it’s a minor film buoyed by its star power. Perhaps due to the fact that earlier movies released in 2007 about Middle Eastern conflicts weren’t well received commercially or critically, director Mike Nichols never gives the movie enough weight to be considered anything but a pleasant distraction. The movie gets so wrapped up in Wilson’s flippant attitude (when asked to join the House Ethics committee, he remarks that he’s on the other side of that issue), Hoffman’s gruff demeanour (his character, Gust Avrakotos, is introduced with one of the year’s best monologues, which was probably one of the big reasons he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this role), and their machinations that it drops the ball on the denouement that gives the story it’s relevance. The heart of the story of America’s role in Afghanistan comes at the end, and while Nichols doesn’t ignore it, he doesn’t punch it hard enough to leave any lasting impression.
Ultimately, that sums up the film itself, while I enjoyed watching it enough, it left no lasting impression. A competent Hollywood offering that manages to be a bit more thanks to its stars and its script, but certainly nothing worth getting excited about.