Hanks, Roberts and Hoffman lead a winning War
An accurate description of “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the political drama based on the true story of the Congressman who helped fund Afghanistan’s victory over the Soviet Union would have most people snoozing mid-sentence. But the film itself, which bursts with star power (Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Phillip Seymour Hoffman), comes off as a smart comedy, economically written and briskly paced while making politics more fun than they have a right to be.
A scene early in the film sets the tone. Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson (Hanks) sits in a hot tub in a Las Vegas hotel circa 1980 drinking and carousing with strippers and a pandering Hollywood producer of dubious merit. Yet there is the engaging politician, while making humorous banter with his fellow soakers, looking more interested in a Dan Rather news report on Afghanistan being broadcast on a nearby television.
This provokes the likeably flawed politician to fly to Afghanistan, where he sees first hand the human suffering caused by the Soviets’ attack on their neighboring country. At the “encouragement” of right wing socialite (and frequent bedfellow) Joanne Herring (Roberts), Wilson uses his clout as a member of the House’s Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to increase funding from a paltry $5 million annually to over $500 million. His worthy ambitions are aided by a fiery, foul-mouthed CIA operative (the scene stealing Hoffman), who has the connections and insider’s savvy to help Charlie’s covert cause.
Whether the film is historically accurate is less relevant than how colorfully its characters are painted by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“A Few Good Men,” “The West Wing”). The movie engagingly demonstrates how the American political machine works without making a heavy-handed statement about its good ol’ boy machinations or current events. Surprisingly, a stay-the course-in-Iraq sentiment is one of many potential mandates a viewer may conclude.
The film is more hopeful than cynical, a decision that was made up front by casting the charismatic Hanks, who does some fine work here as an imperfect but ultimately determined politician who wants to make a difference.
That’s a notion that feels almost wondrously old-fashioned these days.
Rated R for profanity, nudity, sexual situations, violence and drug use