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From the DVD Shelf: Charlie Wilson’s War

Picked this up off the DVD shelf recently, and I must say I enjoyed it as thoroughly as I did when I saw it in theatres last year.  In his review of the film for the New York Times, A.O. Scott described Charlie Wilson’s War as “more of a hoot than any picture dealing with the bloody, protracted fight between the Soviet Army and the Afghan mujahedeen has any right to be.”  I must say that I entirely agree!

Tom Hanks plays Charlie Wilson, a representative from Texas’ Second Congressional District to the U.S. House of Representatives.  Hanks imbues this good ol’ boy with an inordinate amount of charm, whether he’s flirting with women in a hot-tub or debating the intricacies of Constitutional law with a constituent.  Charlie quickly finds common purpose with short-fused, take-no-nonsense C.I.A. operative Gust Avrakotos, played with great vigor by Philip Seymour Hoffman.  (His opening scene, in which he viciously tells off his boss at the C.I.A., is an absolute riot.)  Hoffman’s Gust is the polar opposite of Charlie — ornery, blunt, and poorly-dressed.  But the two find a strange sort of kinship in their realization of the importance of defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan.

While Hanks and Hoffman get most of the fun (and most of the film’s best lines), the supporting cast is superb as well.  Julia Roberts is beautiful and imposing as the wealthy Joanne Herring; Amy Adams is sassy and smart as Charlie’s assistant Bonnie Bach (though I do wish she had a bit more to do in the film); and I don’t want to forget the delightful Ned Beatty (forever known to my generation as Lex Luthor’s oafish henchman Otis from the Richard Donner Superman movies).

But the real stars of the film are writer Aaron Sorkin and director Mike Nichols.  These two gentlemen know comedy, and they know drama, and they know how to combine the two.  Sorkin’s script is filled with memorable lines (my favorite being Charlie’s response to Joanne’s question as to why Congress is saying one thing and doing nothing: “tradition, mostly”) and the rat-tat-tat dialogue exchanges that he is famous for, but not in a way that overwhelms the story being told.  And Nichols’ direction gives the film a light, enjoyable tone, while not shying away from some difficult questions that any look at the U.S.’s actions during this period must lead to.  This is a film with a clear point to make about today’s political realities, but the filmmakers are confident enough not to hit you over the head with it.  Most importantly, Nichols and the skilled actors with whom he is working are able to create fully-realized characters to populate the film, not one-dimensional caricatures.  That gives the film some emotional weight to accompany all of its amusing moments (which are myriad).

If you missed this film in the glut of political, Iraq war-related films that were released in late 2007 and early 2008, I encourage you to go back and check this one out.

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