CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR
The true story of how playboy congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), a renegade CIA agent, Gust Avrokotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a beautiful, wealthy Houston socialite, Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), joined forces to lead the largest and most successful covert operation in history. They wanted to provide essential weapons to help the Mujehideen in Afghanistan beat back the Societ Army. Their efforts contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, with consequences that reverberate throughout the world today.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Mike Nichols adds yet another splendid film to his already impressive career - from Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf to The Graduate, from Silkwood and Working Girl to Primary Colors. His intelligence and good taste shine through in all his films, as does his sophisticated sense of humour. The subject matter here is deeply serious, of course, but Nichols has a light touch even with political material, as he showed with Primary Colors. He also has a refined sense of casting; Philip Seymour Hoffman is the scene stealer, grabbing every second he's on screen as the gruff but clever secret agent who is not really appreciated at CIA HQ in Langley, but who turns out to be indispensable to the task.
Tom Hanks is cleverly light handed with his characterisation of Charlie Wilson (who has enthusiastically endorsed the film), a deceptively easy going, hard drinking and fun loving guy who is able to take things seriously without being a bore. Julia Roberts is both smart and sassy as Joanne, the wealthy beauty whose motivation is confused but whose determination is unstoppable. Notable, too, is Amy Adams as Charlie's can-do executive assistant, one of his squad of pretty 'Angels' who make his office hum to deadlines with hemlines.
But all the characters and supports are excellent, the humour kicks in nicely and the length and pace make it a tight affair, just over 90 minutes.
It's a really great story - and true! - effectively told, filled with layers of international politics, interpersonal relationships and the whole gamut of humanity. Irresistible.
Review by Louise Keller:
He is charming, likes pretty girls, single malt whisky and having a good time. But Congressman Charlie Wilson is also partial to a cause. What begins as a favour to an influential friend and occasional lover turns into an obsession to free the Afghanistan people from the Russian military invasion. It's a great story (based on real events) and director Mike Nichols tackles it with fortitude, good humour and humanity. Tom Hanks excels as Charlie who may not be a conventional patriot but knows how to win votes. He is well countered by Julia Roberts as the outspoken socialite fundraiser with strong passions and Philip Seymour Hoffman takes on the third juicy role in the film, as the undiplomatic CIA agent with the sense of humour that is an acquired taste. They're a great trio, each portraying his/her character with flair and gusto.
Charlie Wilson's story first became public through George Crile's 60 Minutes story on CBS in 1988. As is often the case, fact is more fascinating than fiction, and the totality of the story, as described in Nichols' film, is one whose elements have to be seen to be believed. There's a Las Vegas hot tub where champagne and cocaine is there for the taking; a courtesy visit to the President of Pakistan; a bottle of whisky with a bugging device; a ginger striped cat that lives on a congressional desk; a belly dancer used as a decoy; a strategic weapons expert who simultaneously plays chess with four people. This is a film of contrasts. One minute, Charlie is making a heartbreaking visit to a Pakistani refugee camp; the next he is playing with the hearts of pretty women.
Nichols never forgets the seriousness of the topic at hand. It's not a war movie but it plays against a backdrop of war; it's not a comedy but it has plenty of humour; it's not a romance but the romantic relationships matter; it's not a political story but everything is political. Charlie Wilson's War is a story that interest and excels by its uniqueness. It's stylish, hard-hitting and surprising and one the discerning movie lover will appreciate.
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CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR (M)
CAST: Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Rizwan Manji, Mary Page Keller, Brian Markinson, Om Puri, Spencer Garrett
PRODUCER: Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks
DIRECTOR: Mike Nichols
SCRIPT: Aaron Sorkin (book by George Crile)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stephen Goldblatt
EDITOR: John Bloom, Antonia Van Drimmelen
MUSIC: James Newton Howard
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Victor Kempster
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 24, 2008