An interesting politically themed film that doesn’t ever feel too bogged down in seriousness even if it is based on true events of war. The oozing charisma of Tom Hanks as the titular Charlie helps give the film a likeable boost and in fact this movie provides a surreal balance of comedy against the terror being faced by Afghan people in the late 80’s.
It’s a plot that uses the truth of real people and events and sees US Representative Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) prefer a life of jacuzzis, strippers and parties in general. Soon his path crosses with a romantic figure and friend, she’s called Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) and her position influences Wilson to try and aide the plights of undefendable people in Afghanistan. Through this he meets and gains the help of a CIA agent named Gust (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and they all try and come together to give something to the Afghans to fight against the threat of the Soviet Union.
It’s a quite meaty effort directed by Mike Nichols who takes on the scripted talents of Aaron Sorkin and whirls up a fun and dramatic look at the war in the Middle East and the threat of Russia. This war idea comes in as another tool in the metaphorical sense of Wilson’s war to achieve the end game and to also battle against the allegations rising about him and his party lifestyle. The influence of Sorkin must have bubbled over from the page into the directors chair somehow too with West Wing-esque walking and talking giving that political business of movement and importance to the film. Nichols gives the film that needed pace for a film about an on the go busy congressman, it further needs that quick style because of the imminent threats the Afghan’s keep facing. It truly makes for a vast change to the directors previous outing in that of ‘Closer’ which felt incredibly slow on the most part. This 2007 film is better on all counts of pace, drama and storytelling.
All of the film or at least the majority of the movie comes across as realistic and sufficient to portray this account. There are uses of stock footage with the Afghan’s using weapons to try and take down enemy helicopters. The addition of these grainy videos is very helpful as it boosts the credibility and makes the film feel more true and believable. There’s reason to believe it more when you can actually see that something undoctored, not made by Hollywood is showing the actions of the story. On the whole the film does well to give us locations and backgrounds that work with the narrative and the political buildings get you into that zone that you feel you’re walking the hallways of American establishments alongside Wilson. It’s a great amount of detail in the work that 100% helps the story come alive.
There are moments of comedy as well that provide the opposite end of the see saw to the heavier element of war and political thoughts. A scene featuring Hoffman ranting about not being chosen for the Helsinki job, he’s raging and perfect in facing his senior and calling him out on dam allegories, thinking he shouldn’t be apologising and generally just being all out ballsy and amazing in facing down in the CIA office. Oh and then there’s the window moment, a great ending to the back and forth. Later on there’s a scene in Wilson’s office which becomes like that of a comedy sketch as Charlie keeps making Gust leave to hear what his assistant Bonnie and the receptionists have to say about the surfacing news of his Vegas night. It’s that and the bottle of Scotch which gives us another layer of funny giving this script a healthy mixture of both serious and lighter tones to keep the film engaging.
Tom Hanks as always lights up the screen and even with the promiscuous nature of his Wilson character you can’t help but like the man. He brings with him that effortless charm to push the story along and keep you on his side. He’s a fantastic leading man and when you watch this you can’t really think of anyone else but him to play the part. Julia Roberts is classy and flirty but more importantly she’s smart and driven in getting Charlie Wilson to do what she wants him to do. She has that glamorous and assured look to sell the character. Philip Seymour Hoffman is fantastic and cranky and hilarious as the CIA agent and his monologues are always a thing of beauty and anytime I see a film with him in it I look forward to the prospect of him having a speech to deliver. He embodies the guy and is brilliant as always. Amy Adams plays Bonnie, the assistant but on the whole she doesn’t really have too much to do apart from shadowing Hanks. There’s a younger Emily Blunt in here too who does nothing else but serve as a hot temptation for Wilson. It really is a three person show with the powerhouse performers of Hanks, Roberts and Hoffman coming together to create a solid acting unit.
It’s a near brilliant, near perfect blend of comedy and drama that only feels oddly surreal now and again. There are touches here and there that make you question how true this all is and places in the film feel cut down not helping the character’s actions have meaning. The ending too does feel slightly too Hollywood in being that typically expected nice ending but that doesn’t ruin what comes before. It’s an interesting satirical gaze at a true moment in history pulled off with superb ease by Tom Hanks who becomes Charlie Wilson.