Charlie Wilson drinks. He entertains a large number of women. He goes to Vegas and climbs into a hot tub with several strippers. Oh, and he’s also a Congressman.
Based on true events, ‘Charlie Wilson’s War,’ is the story of a Congressman who single-handedly helped the Afghan people drive the Soviets from their country.
The film is filled with A-class talent. Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman star. Amy Adams and Emily Blount co-star. Aaron Sorkin (he of ‘The West Wing’) writes. And Mike Nichols directs. With talent like this, how can you go wrong?
Sadly, you can. First, let’s start with the casting. Tom Hanks is decent as Wilson, but there’s part of his good-natured, friendly, every-man persona that lurks behind Wilson’s eyes. Maybe he should have taken the character farther to really distance this role from his others. Julia Roberts is blah, and the only reason she is paid any mind is because she’s Julia Roberts. The part is thankless and the performance is not memorable. Thankfully, that cannot be said about Philip Seymour Hoffman. Again, Hoffman creates an interestingly flawed character. His CIA agent, working with Wilson to keep a war going on, is right on target, and, he seems to be the only of the three lead actors who knows the right way to say Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue. Amy Adams in perfectly fine in her role as Wilson’s assistant, but isn’t given a chance to shine. Blount fares even worse, showing up for five minutes of screen time, only to remove her pants and hook up with Wilson.
The script also has its issues. The story is the one quoted above. And that’s it. No ‘B’ story. No real question of whether or not they would accomplish their goal. Basically, the movie opens with a few characters saying, ‘hey, wouldn’t it be great if Russia got out of Afghanistan? I wonder if we can do anything to make that happen.’ And then they do. By definition, drama involves conflict. There is very little conflict and one is left hoping that the fireworks between the three actors will be enough to entertain. Sometimes this happens. Usually, it does not.
Mike Nichols seems like he would be the perfect choice to direct this. His work in the past few years (‘Angels in America,’ ‘Closer,’ and ‘Primary Colors’) Yet, one gets the feeling that he doesn’t go for the jugular this time, that he lets off on the accelerator just as he should be flooring it. This is the guy who made ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ and ‘Catch-22,’ not letting up should be second nature for him.
And yet, this time out, the movie dissolves to flags waving and eagles flying, just as Wilson is telling the audience that by not finishing the job, the US dropped the ball.
Maybe Sorkin and Nichols should have stayed on the case a little longer, shown who dropped the ball and the fallout. As it is, ‘Charlie Wilson’s War,’ is a satire and comedy that leaves the audience wishing that it would show its teeth. -Sam