Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Charlie Wilson's War (2007)

It's a big ask to accurately detail the real life events that Charlie Wilson's War intends to portray in just 90 minutes, so it's perhaps only natural that the film fails.

However, it is said that Aaron Sorkin's original screenplay was far more hard hitting and offered a more detailed analysis on how American support for the mujahideen against Soviet forces in the 1980s directly led to the terrorist attack of 9/11 and the state of the world we are now in. But apparently, Tom Hanks found that approach 'too political'

Too political for a film about politics? Is he really Forrest Gump?

Hanks is an odd choice for the role of hard drinking, drug taking womanising good ole boy congressman Charlie Wilson. Right from the off Sorkin references Dallas and it's clear the character requires a Larry Hagman type character. Hanks is not Larry Hagman and his goody-goody screen persona is too heavy handed for such a morally  complex movie. Far too much is left out of the film (the involvement of other counter intelligence agencies such as MI6 and ISI; the different factions in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the small matter of Pakistan's nuclear arms program which Wilson denied at Senate yet in reality, according to his biographer, he not only knew about but fully supported) to focus on Wilson as a flawed but ultimately decent man who moves mountains to up the covert war budget from $5million to a billion because he was so touched by the plight of Afghan refugees. A caption at the start of the end credits claiming Wilson believed the US had "fucked up the end game" is a remarkably glib, trite way to explain away the threat of fundamentalist terrorism on today's Western world as a direct result of his government's actions in the 1980s, yet that's the only explanation we actually get in Charlie Wilson's War - other than a scene in which his request for $1million for a new school in Afghanistan is blocked by senate. It's a scene that feels shoehorned in and is similarly empty in its attempts to explain this most horrific of consequences.

The film has its plus points; Hanks may be miscast but he's talented enough to eke out the likeability factor, whilst Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers the best performance of the film. There's the brief added bonus of Emily Blunt. It may only be two scenes, but one of them sees her in her bra and pants. 

Less enjoyable is a very dull performance from Julia Roberts as a right wing God fearing Texas political hostess and Amy Adams is wasted in the minor, unfulfilling role of Wilson's aide. The final act too sees the action fritter away into a series of montages compiled of archive footage and in vision stats, meaning the film ends more or less with a whimper.

Ultimately it's not altogether clear what kind of a film this wants to be. It's political and complex, yet its leading man put the kibosh on it being too political. Director Mike Nicholls is a strange choice for the material and seems to shoot the action with the same lecherous eye that Wilson is purported to have had (there's a scene where his camera longingly gazes up from Adams' high heels as she purposefully strides through the corridors of power, up to her legs before lingering on the sway of her bottom and then capturing the swish of her pony tail) whilst falling between the stools of satire and misty eyed patriotism. Imagine what kind of a film we could have had if Sorkin was allowed to put the bite into the script and Oliver Stone took the director's chair? A better one, I think.

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