With allusions to Frank Capra and his even-the-smallest-man mantra, Mike Nichols is at his satirically sharpest with Charlie Wilson's War. Written by the quipiest wit in LA, Aaron Sorkin - the man who put the snark back into prime time TV - and starring Tom Hanks at his most Jimmy Stewartish, Charlie Wilson's War is a sharp-tongued look at the politics of today - even while telling a story two decades old - and is lock stock and barrel above the myriad of Iraq War Bush-thumping films being made in the droves by well-meaning yet brashly underachieving docudrama post 9/11 auteurs of modern cinema.
Sure, it may be quite high-handed and Hanks and especially Julia Roberts chew enough scenery to easily quadruple the set design budget, but behind Sorkin's saavy screenplay and Nichols pinpoint direction, Charlie Wilson's War flies high as a politically acute comedy-cum-satire as any other out there. The long lost love child of films such as M*A*S*H and Nichols' own Catch-22. Perhaps a bit too self-important at times, but appropriately enough that only adds to the film's sincerely satiric intentions.
This is the is-that-really-true-story (and for the most part it seems to be) of Democratic US Representative from Texas Charles Wilson, a coke and pussy sniffing fuck-up (Hanks gives the somewhat callous character a surprising affability) who we first meet naked in a Las Vegas hot tub talking porn with a Playboy centerfold and a pair of more-than-eager strippers. This was a man who surrounded who surrounded himself with beautiful women assistants - known all around DC as "Charlie's Angels". This was a man who was investigated in the mid 80's by then US Attorney Rudy Giuliani for cocaine use - a fact never denounced by Nichols and Sorkin, but instead given the thumbs up A-OK of just being a part of that decedant decade. This was a man who Molly Ivans once called a pussyhound in print. This was a man who saved the world.
Possibly the least likely candidate to be "saviour of the free world" this side of Larry 'Freaking' Flynt, yet there stands Charlie Wilson at the film's end, a few dramatic considerations later, being lauded as the man responsible for bringing along the downfall of the Soviet Union and even Communism itself - well sort of. You see, while the Gipper was busy bellowing out rhetoric and sound bites for Mr. Gorbachev to tear down his wall, people unbeknownst to most were making the wheels actually turn turn turn. Wilson, along with right-wing socialite Joanne Herring (played with quite a bit of ham by Miss America herself Julia Roberts) and rogue CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (a grumbling cocksure anti-James Bondish Philip Seymour Hoffman) were helping to arm the Afghani rebels with enough weapons to fight and eventually defeat the occupying Soviet army. A feat by the way that no other army on Earth has ever accomplished.
Of course in doing that very thing, they not only led to the tearing down of that aforementioned wall, but also ultimately to acts such as September 11th and its ilk. Another case of helping one enemy to defeat a bigger enemy, only to have that enemy become the bigger enemy (read: Iran, Iraq, Panama, Honduras, Chile, Colombia, etc). The punchline (if it can be called that) of Charlie Wilson's War is that the US would dole out a billion dollars to help Afghanistan defeat the Soviet empire, but would not shell out a mere million to help rebuild Afghani schools after the whole shooting match was over. Good going guys - and we wonder why the Middle East hates us so. [02/03/08]