Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
It’s been a while since my last review, not finding the time or the right film to talk about, so I’m hoping to return with the final film by the late director Mike Nichols which I have been eyeing up for sometime. Nudged more so by his death late last year. I did catch Working Girl (1988) seeing more than just a comedy, but something with a bite, almost as sharp as Billy Wilder if I dare make such a comparison, not so heavy on the cynicism yet still not afraid to say what they wanted to.
Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) was not really worth the build-up I was giving it, only slightly though, coming away with more a “look what happened next” feeling after Texan congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) arranges for weapons to be given to Afghanistan to defend themselves against the obvious Soviet threat. Set during the tail end of the Cold War it felt more like the 1960’s visually, the colour and lighting was cranked up, even with all the 80’s hairdo’s it felt to soft to be only the late 1980’s. That’s only my first criticism, the combination of stock news footage and new footage can be jarring at times as we fly through the mountains of Afghanistan. The polished helicopters look too superficial, not war torn to really have been there. Like a computer game before all the dirt was added to the vehicles.
On the acting front I was waiting for Philip Seymour Hoffman the CIA agent Gust Avrakotos who has been waiting for a bigger challenge. Whilst upstairs in the White House money and weapons are changing hands thanks to the influence of two Texans, one congressman and the sixth wealthiest woman in Texas Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) who influence those who have the real power to make things happens. On the surface you can see this as America rising to the challenge to help a nation in need. Whilst always in the background you have the Cold War and the seeds of Al Qaeda being sewn at the same time. It could be a heavy film, the Cold War has never been a comfortable conflict to sit through for a film, too much cynicism and implied fear, nothing really substantial. So much potentially at stake politically, yet in the hands of Nichols you don’t really feel it, with so much else going on, it takes the edge off until Gus brings us back to reality.
Hanks plays the usual good guy here with ease, whilst Roberts is really the one having fun here, if only she had more screen time. The film feels too short for what is going on. Once the weapons are delivered it’s a swift montage of news clips of that 1987-88. Why didn’t we see anything of Reagan? If only for the presidential presence of this underhanded chivalry, America once again to the rescue, with its feet tip-toeing on the ground, something you don’t see in many film. I guess that was part of Nichols magic bringing the reality back to the American dream, you can have it all but remember the reality of the situation. You can get carried away if you let yourself.
The timing of the release film is also key, America at war with two countries, the War on Terror in full swing, never really looking back to the root causes of these terrorist organisations get their weapons. You don’t have to go back to far before you go “oh yeah maybe we/you shouldn’t have done that” A critical part of modern history, aiding a future enemy fight a present one. Of course theres more to it than that. Charlie Wilson’s War makes the audience think about how this war all started, not with 9/11, that may never have happened if 1987 had not happened. Still we can’t live in blame culture, we have to accept what has happened and deal with the present. It’s a cautionary tale that puts a lump in your throat. Maybe I can forgive my earlier negatives with my recent conclusion.