'Charlie Wilson's War'
(Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, et al / DVD / R / (2007) 2008 / Universal)
Overview: Based on the true story of playboy congressman Wilson's efforts to fund Afghanistan's defense against the Soviet invasion of the 1980s, the film is borne along on breezy attitude and a peppery script by West Wing scribe Aaron Sorkin. Wilson, played by Tom Hanks (who also produced), is the perfect hero for this kind of tale, because there's nothing perfect or heroic about him: He's a highball-swilling, fanny-pinching gadabout who becomes radicalized on the issue of helping the Afghans against their mighty aggressor.
DVD Verdict: Lascivious, witty, yet folksy, US Representative Charlie Wilson had a plan. An inveterate jet-setter, "Good Time Charlie's" main motivation in Congress seemed to be for the expense account. In an opening scene we find him hot-tubbing in a swanky suite in a Las Vegas hotel. Joining him in the Jacuzzi are topless strippers who warm up nicely to the Congressman. He casually discusses investing money for a TV show with Crestoff, a friend and business associate. Cavalier at every turn, he still has enough wits about him to engage in politics even while chasing women. After all, that's how some of them become politicians.
One of his romantic and political ties is former fiance, Joanna Herring (Julia Roberts), a wealthy born-again Christian who's described by his main staffer (Amy Adams) as "ultra right-wing". She has a mission for her second district Texas (D) Congressman. Staunchly anti-communist, she has bought him a flight to talk the President of Pakistan about providing arms to Afghanistan in their war against The Soviet Union.
It's an offer he can't refuse. On his visit, he demonstrates a lack of protocol when he requests an alcoholic beverage in a palace that doesn't allow much less serve a drop. (In one funny scene after being taken to task, Wilson quips, "You're told you have character flaws from someone who hung his predecessor in a military coup.") From there she has him hopping his way through the Middle East getting support for a plan for infiltrating arms for the peasants' resistance of the Soviet attacks. Since most of the attacks are from helicopters, Wilson negotiates with Israel, the ones who have the largest stockpile of Soviet weapons. The logistics of negotiation, getting Israel and Egypt to work together, you can imagine, would be a piece of work.
Close on his heels back in the States is CIA operative Gus (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an irascible man who won't be pushed aside as a player in The Cold War. When Wilson and Gus cross paths, Gus doesn't think Wilson will walk the walk. He's seen it all on Capital Hill before. So how refreshing it becomes for Gus when Wilson proves to be a wheeler dealer of Texas-sized proportions. Wilson works to convince the committee chairman (Ned Beatty) to double the funds for assisting the Afghans while keeping the covert operation under the radar.
Meanwhile, his partying comes to roost when news stories trickle into his Congressional office about alleged cocaine use. Unflappable Charlie regards the charges like a pesky fly, but he relies heavily on an all-female staff who, despite their prowess at damage control, were hired much less on typing resumes than what their cleavages revealed. Crestoff, it seems, whom he turned down for his TV show sponsorship, double-crossed him, with an investigation linked all the way to New York and Rudy Guiliani.
`Charlie Wilson's War' is a thoroughly entertaining and inspiring movie. There are plenty of laughs to go along with the insight, and the film proves the honored wisdom that if you want reform, you have to see it. Just as some people needed to see African Americans hosed, beaten, and confronted by attack dogs on TV, Charlie is truly moved when he sees first hand the refugee masses in Afghanistan and the terrible atrocities done to their children.
Like all historical fiction, there may be a few liberties taken with the truth. Recent articles have raised objections about the connections to Bin Laden for the arms arrangements. Whether this is true or not, the movie is an entertaining and informative look at a secret operation before "covert operations" became a dirty word. There has to be a lot of truth to it, even it allegedly fails with a detail or two.
One of the most gratifying aspects of the movie is that the previews are perfect. Neither spoiling its contents nor misleading, the trailer is what it should always be: a warm up, a superb taster, leaving much more that is worth seeing. 'Charlie Wilson's War' has good performances and solid developments without a wasted word or scene. The movie may not be Oscar worthy, but it's a very satisfying movie to watch in every way. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
The Making of Charie Wilson's War - An inside look at the making of the film featuring interviews with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts
Who Is Charlie Wilson? - A profile of the real Charlie Wilson, featuring interviews with Charlie Wilson, Joanne Herring, Tom Hanks, Aaron Sorkin and Mike Nicols