Saturday, December 22, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War (2007, Mike Nichols)

At the height of a highly divisive overseas war, two of Hollywood's biggest stars, along with one of his most respected character actors, teams up with a leading director and a big-ticket screenwriter to make a movie that more or less celebrates interventionism. Now, I'm not totally opposed to American intervention overseas- it's a tricky issue to be sure, but both sides of the argument make valid points. But I'm not sure that in our current climate it really behooves us to be approaching the issue by telling a fairly cut-and-dried story in such a toothless manner. Sorkin's script, reportedly much softened in its transition to the big screen, basically celebrates the cleverness with which its heroes facilitated the defeat of the Red Army in Afghanistan and helped bring about the fall of the Communist Soviet Union, a story that's recent enough that much of the audience will still feel that old anti-Soviet feeling. But how many cases of U.S. interventionism are this simple? Precious few, I'd wager. Late-reel stabs at problematizing our involvement in the war only make this more frustrating, since while they vaguely hint at darker times to come due to our withdrawing our support once the Soviets had turned tail, but also because for all the unease they're trying to stir up they're the most blatantly pro-intervention scenes of all, because they argue that we didn't go far enough. At no point in the film does it occur to a character of any substance that making our presence felt in the Afghanistan/Soviet war might not be an idea touched by unqualified awesomeness. What, was there no devil's advocate character worth mentioning? None of this would bug me so much if the movie was more entertaining, but it's neither as sharp or as funny as it wants to be. For a star-driven vehicle, the superstars leading the cast don't make much of an impression. Little wonder that Philip Seymour Hoffman waltzes away with the movie- he's the only one of the three who's well-cast for his role. Hanks conveys Wilson's integrity- after all, he's Tom Hanks- but he never convinced me of his less savory side. The boozing and womanizing and good ol' boy hellraising just don't wash with the forthright way Hanks approaches the role. Julia Roberts fares worse, as she projects far too much self-regard and composure to pull off such a passionate character- I weep to think of what a younger Jane Fonda or Jessica Lange might have done in the role. Oh, and how many mediocre movies has Nichols made in the last two decades since his ex-comedy partner Elaine May tanked with Ishtar? Come on, Hollywood- she can't be THAT big of a pain in the ass, can she? Give her another chance in my opinion. Rating: 4 out of 10.

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