Comments on watching and making films.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

When Mike Nichols makes a film, these days, it tends to be an event for film lovers. He is one of the old masters, who is still able to consistently turn out quality material, even after forty years in the industry. Although I didn't care too much for his last film, 2004's Closer, it is certainly a rare bump on the road for a man who has given us so many cinematic classics.

Charlie Wilson's War concerns a congressman from Texas who gets mixed up in the plight of the Afghan people after the invasion of Afghanistan, by Communist Russia. It starts out as a small, side interest, but, after visiting the Afghan people, stuck in refugee camps in Pakistan, he realizes that only money and weapons will solve the conflict that the Afghans face. The U.S. has been providing both, but in very minuscule amounts (nowhere near what the people need to even make a dent in the Soviet forces). Enlisting the help of millionaire Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), for initial fundraising, and CIA agent Gust Avrakatos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to set up weapons manifests, get the weapons to the Afghans, and track their progress, Wilson is able to fight a covert war, with little attention or deterrence from the US government, and considerable success.

Nichols direction, as well as the tightly written script by Aaron Sorkin, brings the story of the boozing, womanizing congressman from Texas alive. Tom Hanks, who plays Charlie Wilson, is so good at what he does, you forget that it's Tom Hanks that you're watching. Philip Seymour Hoffman is on the ball, as usual. He hits his performance out of the park, portraying Gust as an incredibly intelligent loser, who doesn't get enough credit. The only weak link among the top players is Julia Roberts, but that is probably a personal issue for me. I just can't see her as anything other than Julia Roberts, and, I think, that takes away from her ability to wow me as an actress.

What is most important about this film, though, is exactly what well made films do best - it delivers a message within its entertainment, and the message is so poignant right now - If you start something, you have to finish it.  Wilson managed to flood the Afghans with money and modern weaponry to fight off the Soviets, but when the war was over, America was no longer interested in supporting the Afghans. This left them with little to go back home to, and a society to rebuild themselves. Is it any wonder that, a little over ten years later, Afghanistan would be a hot bed of anti-American terrorist activity. What the film say's to me, is clear - No one wants to be in Iraq anymore. It sucks. People are dying. But, we started something, and if we don't finish it, it's going to come back and bite us, just like the Afghan situation did.

Go see this film. It's storytelling at its best.

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