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Movie Review: Charlie Wilson’s War

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Sometimes a movie can ride on the fact that it’s got big and talented stars and a clever script and it works just fine. However in the case of Charlie Wilson’s War that simply isn’t enough, because the rest it has to offer feels muddled, confusing, and irritatingly restrained.

Charlie Wilson’s War is a biography/drama about a Texas congressman and his covert dealings with Afghanistan, where his efforts to assist rebels in their fight against the Soviets has had long-reaching effects.

In all fairness my negative reaction to this film is really a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”. For some reason I just couldn’t get into the groove of the whole thing; although the script is very clever and very well written, it's the combination of the insider mentality, including copious amounts of names of places, people, and countries, and a certain satire that just doesn't sit right with me. I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who will just “get” what the film is aiming for, but I am not one of them.

Although I realise it’s a personal portrayal of one man’s story within the goings-on of the time period, I still couldn’t get it out of my head that it could have been pushed a lot further than it was. There are all these different events, places, people, and so on that are mentioned or alluded to frequently, but we never really see many of them. It might have helped if I had some prior knowledge or interest in the events tackled instead of going in completely blind and as a result there were plenty of times within its fairly brisk 95 minutes where I was utterly lost. To me the only real merits of this film were the actors and performances on the menu.

First off we have Tom Hanks and it goes without saying he’s just great here. I always thought he had a certain suaveness about him and he just needed the right kind of role, such as Charlie Wilson, to show off that attribute. It’s always very clear whether someone is forcing a performance or it comes to them naturally and in Hanks’ case here it’s definitely an example of the latter.

Supporting him is the very fun Julia Roberts and the fantastic Philip Seymour Hoffman. Roberts seems a little bit off-kilter here but to me that was part of the character; that plastic, driven type who’s just a lot of fun to be around, whatever the conversational subject at hand might be. However it’s Hoffman who puts in the best performance, agreed upon by the Academy as they nominated him for Best Supporting Actor earlier this year. This guy could stand next to people like Marlon Brando or Daniel Day-Lewis and he wouldn’t seem remotely out of place. Along with his amazing performances in The Savages and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead this has been an impressive year for him indeed; that’s a triple punch of performances to shout from the movie theatre roofs about.

Like I said, I am not savvy about the events that the film tackles so I can’t say whether or not they take liberties with the facts. Perhaps it’s time for me to brush up on certain subjects I am not familiar with, just so I can keep on track when a film like this comes along. All I can say, as an uninformed viewer, I didn’t feel I had learned anything all that important from this.

I certainly welcome more films like this which offer up such impressive casts and such well written screenplays. In this case, however, it doesn’t help that the rest of it wasn’t all that interesting or attention grabbing, at least not to me. I’m sure there are plenty of movie goers out there who will adore this flick but I certainly can’t say I’m one of them.

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About Ross Miller

  • The movie is based on the excellent book by George Crile. The movie is reasonably accurate to the events portrayed in the book, although it tends to understate various elements and overplays others at times and compresses the events of 10 years into a 2 hr screenplay.

  • I think that’s the movie’s problem – the fact that a huge amount of events (and stuff from the book) has to be boiled down and shortened to less than a couple of hours. It’s very difficult to get an adaptation (of a book or real life events) right and I think this film doesn’t.