Perspective, that’s what Charlie Wilson’s War keeps in mind. While other political war movies this season are caught in the quagmire of the news of our current world wide screw ups, Charlie goes back to one that could have started or (at least worsened) many of our current problems. At the very least it takes apart the thought processes of our political system. It does so by telling the story of Charlie Wilson and how he waged a covert war that helped end the Cold War. In short, by supplying Afghanistan with billions of dollars worth of military equipment they were able to stick it to the Soviets. It’s funny to think of a time in which we were helping Afghanistan and not tearing it apart.
There’s no grandstanding here. There’s never a “we’re better than they are” mentality. Writer Aaron Sorkin knows we all have a little dirt on our hands and he points it out. Sure we’re helping murderers and backstabbers, but we’re not so righteous ourselves. Charlie Wilson, a military advisor is, in fact, the least righteous person for the job. Tom Hanks has always had a hard time really digging into the darker sides of his characters, but here he takes full strides as an actor bringing to life this sordid, womanizing personality. He’s not stupid, just brazen, which is probably why he got along so well with Gust Avrakotos, the CIA operative that Philip Seymour Hoffman throws himself into.
This year has been full of memorable performances (three of them from Hoffman) and Gust can easily be added to that list. He is abrasive but wise about it. He’s one of the true practical forces in the political world. He knows what needs to be done, but can’t get around the bureaucracy. Charlie falls somewhere in between. He’s a piece of unmolded clay. Willing to help in little ways, but like most of America has only seen the rest of the world through fuzzy news cameras, and doesn’t believe that one man can make that big a difference.
Bring in Joanne Herring, a bleach blonde Julia Roberts as a religious, conservative, wealthy Texas woman, whose had an on-again-off-again affair with Charlie. She also has been concerned about the plight of Afghanistan for some time now and manages to talk Charlie into going overseas to see what’s happening first hand.
There in what could have become an over the top “lets look at the horrors of war” segment becoming bigger than the movie itself, Mike Nichols scales it back and directs the atrocities that we see through the characters Charlie and his assistant Bonnie Bach, played by the beautiful and wonderful Amy Adams, making it that much more effective for the audience. It isn’t until Charlie steps up on a hill overlooking the refugee camp that we realize just how awful everything is. Nichols, over the years has learned how to stage a scene so effortlessly while maximizing the effect of every shot. Nothing is wasted.
The story skips back and forth from side-splitting humor to incredible character moments and thoughtful drama. Sorkin’s dialogue is whip-crack smart. And Nichols should direct every actor in every film, every year. These two incredible intelligent and creative people should work together again and very soon.
Also in the film is Emily Blunt, the first assistant to Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Even in a small role as one of Charlie’s potential flings she has the incredibly sexy presence of a movie star.
It isn’t until we witness actual footage of Afghanistan fighting the Russians that we’re drawn out of the character’s stories and reminded a little to vehemently that there’s something larger going on (which we already understand.) Effective in one sense but the damage is done. Following the characters becomes secondary and the emotional impact is lessened.
In the end we have the opportunity to create something better, but don’t take advantage of it. The attitude that our government takes to the one thing that could have saved many headaches is pretty telling about how they seem to act when faced with any situation. If it doesn’t help us right now, it’s not worth doing. We’ve become a short-sighted country, unable to see beyond our next move, unable to empathize with our opponents and even our allies.