Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War (2007)

(Another movie I'm late to the table with, but here you go.)

Significance is a dangerous thing, and while it's a necessary component to art, in the wrong quantity it can also be deadly. Charlie Wilson's War, for example. It has, as it's raison d'etre, the goal of providing a partial look at how America helped to support the rise of the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan against the Soviets. All well and good, the movie follows an almost classically Hollywood structure in which a rogue is transformed into an idealist and ultimately succeeds in a David vs. Goliath manner against superior forces - in this case, both the Soviet Army and the U.S. government's own sluggishness.

The problem is that, even though this movie is well-written by Aaron Sorkin and expertly performed by a terrific cast, the inherent structure of the final product is designed to ultimately squeeze all the life out of the film in order to deliver the desired message. Charlie Wilson is an interesting character, a colorful, womanizing boozehound who yet manages to get things done out of patriotism, pragmatism, and a subtle idealism. Too bad this movie is just tangentially about him, and primarily about how his triumph in defeating the Soviets was overshadowed by his inability to find funding for foreign aid to Afghanistan after the fall of the Soviet empire. Aaron Sorkin's work seems to have focused on delivering the complex exposition required to make this story make sense and not on real thematic depth or complexity. A more interesting movie would have been about the deeper issues this movie raises about the American national condition, our clumsiness coupled with our idealism, which has been managed successfully by such other movies as The Good Shepherd or Oliver Stone's Nixon.

Anyway, Sorkin delivers some great scenes and dialogue, Hanks is his usual charming self, but Julia Roberts is miscast; her part should have been played by an older character actress. Philip Seymour Hoffman however, is terrific, shining in a supporting role in a way that his lead role in The Savages and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead didn't let him.

In the end this is a smart movie with some good scenes, but watching it I couldn't help but feel the urgency on the part of the filmmakers to rush through the movie in order to arrive at their point, which while worth making, is also not exactly a recipe for lasting art.

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