Aaron Sorkin has written the screenplay and Mike Nichols has shot it and the results are in: Charlie Wilson’s War is a winner! The film, which is not only entertaining but engrossing, is about a period of American history which is still very relevant today (the Christianity versus Islam conflict in the 1980s) and more specifically about a politician (Congressman Charlie Wilson, played by a marvelous Tom Hanks) who has attracted the media’s scrutiny after being seen cavorting about in Las Vegas with pin-ups and copious amounts of blow.
It’s always fascinating to see an elected official get caught doing something we wish he had done away before his Bachelors degree was handed to him. And were it not for a prized seat on a couple of pivotal Congressional committees (one of which is Appropriations), Wilson was generally a bit player in the late 1980s, which is probably why he could get away with so much. The film’s subplot is his short-lived battle to contain a fast-growing scandal involving him and the drugs and pinups mentioned earlier in the article.
The scandal, hardly enough for a subplot, barely lasts more than few frames and is meant as a temporary distraction from what’s really happening. Wilson goes to Pakistan to visit their head of state and gets sent to a Afghani refugee camp located just a chopper ride away. After seeing the camp’s desolate conditions first hand, he flies back to Washington with a new agenda: appropriating a multi-million dollar package to arm the Afghani fighters.
The film’s leitmotiv (and Wilson’s refrain): how do we take down these Soviet helicopters? It’s a just cause and appropriately drives this very entertaining War. Just as an aside, Tom Hanks and the parts he plays are starting to look a lot like Tom Hanks these days. He’s great for the role, but his performance lacks a punchiness, something that Chris Cooper or, sometimes, Tommy Lee Jones have. The incorrigible Phillip Seymour Hoffman is also in Charlie Wilson’s War, and it’s no small matter, considering his incidienry character and performance. He plays an unbearable Gust Avrakotos, the CIA desk agent who helps Wilson find a large weapons cache in Israel and eventually becomes partners with him on the project. Hoffman is in tip-top shape and helps keep War riveting and unpredictable. What class!