Plot: Based on a true story, Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) has a Houston socialite (Julia Roberts) push him toward helping Afghanistan, in their attempt to win their war with the Soviets. Wilson ends up traveling around the world trying to get this done with the help of CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Who’s it for: You will enjoy this film if you’re a fan of Hanks, Hoffman, Roberts, director Mike Nichols or screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. In other words, it will be tough not to find something to enjoy.
Expectations: I, um, randomly was watching “Oprah” one day and Hanks and Roberts were pimping the film. When a big cast gets together you always hope for the best (“The Departed”) and prepare for the worst (“All the King’s Men”).
SCORECARD Actors: Tom Hanks as Charlie Wilson: Charlie declares he’s on the other side of ethics. But with that classic Hanks smile, it works great. A functioning alcoholic and womanizer, he still knows his stuff being able to rattle off foreign policy. It’s a great touch that he reads his news right off the wire, so he can be one day smarter. Grade: 9
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos: Charlie just calls him Gus, cause it’s easier. Gust talks ugly, looks ugly and Hoffman wears it all well. I’m guessing he’s was overweight for “The Savages” because of this role. Any time Hanks and Hoffman are on the screen together, the film is at its best. Grade: 10
Julia Roberts as Joanne Herring: Joanne is just Roberts with an occasional accent. That’s going to be enough for her die-hard fans, but otherwise this character begins and ends with “powerful Southern woman.” That’s really all that is going on. Grade: 5
Talking: If you’ve seen “Sports Night,” “West Wing,” or even the short-lived “Studio 60 and the rest of the title that is too long to bother writing” you know that Sorkin can write. The screenplay is full of tiny little jokes and it might be difficult for an audience to hear them over all the laughter. Grade: 9
Sights and sounds: It’s hard to see Charlie and Gust as anything more than wonderful characters to watch, so the film runs into a hint of a problem when trying to show the atrocities of war. The stock footage from the ’80s definitely works better than the Soviets chatting in the helicopters. Grade: 7
PLOT SPOILERS Best Scene: The first time Charlie meets Gust there is a brilliant, no-nonsense back and forth while Charlie tries to balance attacking the Soviets and avoiding bad press from dabbling with coke.
Ending: It stings a bit. The audience will find parallels with the end of this film and our current destruction of Iraq. It’s a very sly way to make a very current statement.
Random Thoughts: I kept making sure I was hearing Hanks correctly, but yes, one of his workers is named “Jailbait.” And as someone in my early 30s, the film gave me insight to a world situation I knew little about.
Rewatchability: It’s just over one and a half hours long, and there is definitely enough to keep viewers coming back. If the DVD can contain some interviews from the real people involved and a commentary track with a couple of the stars, it will be well worth owning.
OVERALL “Charlie Wilson’s War” is filled with star power that delivers. The dialogue zings and pops whether you are trying to keep up with Hanks and Hoffman as they exchange one-liners or trying to fully understand the foreign affairs and how Charlie Wilson is able to orchestrate driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Director Nichols and writer Sorkin create such overzealous characters, there is a slight disconnect between the real world and Charlie’s play land, but the ride is as fast and fun as you can find in the theater this year.
Overall Score: 9