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Tue December 18, 2007
Charlie Wilson's War
Nifty Nichols Dramedy
By John DeSando, WCBE's It's Movie Time
"He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness." Handel's Messiah
I haven't been as excited about a political film since Mike Nichols' Primary Colors. His Charlie Wilson's War is even truer than the Clinton-like campaign story because Texas had a true Congressman named Charlie Wilson almost two decades ago, who took on the cause of Afghanistan against the Russians, supplied the Afghanis with sophisticated arms, and subsequently drove Russia back home.
Wilson's paramours include a wealthy Houston do-gooder Joanne Herring (who may have looked like Julia Roberts, but I doubt it) and a variety of bimbettes, some on his staff. The crafty Nichols touch comes even at the beginning where from the comfort of a hot tub with some of these ornamental friends, Wilson is almost hypnotized by Dan Rather's reporting from Afghanistan.
Although Wilson's substance abuse and overuse of sex are well documented, Nichols deftly shows the extraordinary energy and wit it took for Charlie to offset his partying image and allocate millions in aid through his House Defense Appropriations Committee and purchases of arms that had to be Russian made in order to keep the operation covert. Having Phillip Seymour Hoffman as canny CIA operative Gus Avakatos helps Tom Hanks be better than I have seen him in recent memory; Julia tones down her teeth to let Hanks show Charlie's uncommon charisma.
Lingering in the background of the fast talking negotiating is the future of Afghanistan, which in true dramatic irony only we know: The Taliban will take over Afghanistan in part because of the arms we gave the country against the USSR. As a companion piece to the current Kite Runner, which shows the effects of Taliban takeover, this screwball political drama/comedy seems at times benign and na?ve, two traits we retain as a country even after Afghanistan's contribution to 9/11.
While Roberts and Hanks provide some Rosalind Russell/Cary Grant repartee, the real prize belongs to Hoffman, who perfectly embodies the brilliant behind-the-scenes geek with knowledge of arms and politics that seems lethal in itself. His smart mouthing with Hanks is a delight to behold. His Gus is the one character, maybe even more than Wilson, who gives the audience a cynical peek at the way action is fomented in the traditionally moribund Congress. I came away with a sense that I had seen superior acting and into the romantic ride any successful funding must go through until it separates from the pork and does some good.
As for the prelude to the 9/11 apocalypse, Nichols and Sorkin don't need to go there?we get it.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com