Charlie Wilson's War

Charlie Wilson's War


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The real horrors of the long Afghani-Soviet war are only glimpsed in this film, but perhaps that's appropriate. Those who paid attention at the time will never need reminding, whilst most people, as the unfolding story illustrates, never gave a damn. Not so Congressman Charlie Wilson, whose attention is caught by news footage whilst he relaxes in a hot tub with strippers. When, a few days later, the sixth richest woman in Texas calls him up and invites him to a fundraiser in support of Afghan rebels, he's cynical but ready to listen. She's not shy about her agenda. "I want you to save Afghanistan for the Afghans," she says. And that's what Charlie tries to do.

Based on a true story, Charlie Wilson's War combines sharp political drama with what is essentially a feel-good story about naive but passionate people who aim to use their power to do good in the world. The trouble is, of course, that the world isn't really that simple.

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Tom Hanks is superb as the charismatic congressman, "a man with several personality flaws" who is nevertheless charming and full of good intentions. Completely losing himself in the character, Hanks comes on like a classic good versus evil hero, sympathetic even when he's talking quite plainly about "killing some Russians", and handling his inevitable disillusionment with impressive delicacy. This is really the finest performance of his career, and he's ably matched by Julia Roberts, complete with terrifying Texan hair, making the most of her scant screen time to remind us of the unseen forces in American politics. This, too, is deftly handled - we get a glimpse of right wing extremism and Commie-hating which helps to throw the political posturing elsewhere in the film into sharp relief.

Likewise Philip Seymour Hoffman's superb performance as CIA man Gust Avrakotos neatly undercuts conspiracy theories. For a film about politics and fence sitting, this does a fine job of political fence-sitting, but in so doing it provides a convincing portrait of America's democracy as contrasted with alternative regimes around the world.

Charlie Wilson's War is a glossy film, sleek and polished, and this is occasionally to its detriment, as the Afghani scenes we do see don't quite have the impact they should, but perhaps that reflects the inevitable distance between these two worlds, a gap even its most determined heroes cannot cross. Ironically it presents the very image of America which angers extremists around the world, entirely glossing over home grown suffering. It's an odd thing to watch in the current climate - hearing, for instance, comments on the Bhutto assassination and having to remind oneself that they're not referring to Benazir. As a slice of history it's compelling and it seems quite aware of its limits.

Reviewed on: 08 Jan 2008
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Charlie Wilson's War packshot
A well intentioned US congressman gets out of his depth trying to help the Afghans repel Russian invaders.
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Chris ****

Director: Mike Nichols

Writer: Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by George Crile.

Starring: Tom Hanks, Amy Adams, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Terry Bozeman, Brian Markinson, Jud Tylor, Hilary Angelo, Cyia Batten, Kirby Mitchell, Ed Regine

Year: 2007

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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