out of Five
Running time: 95
Charlie Wilsons War is breezily directed, intelligently written and boasts enjoyable performances but it restricts itself to dryly presenting the basic facts and occasionally drags as a result.
What's it all about?
Directed by Mike Nichols and scripted by The West Wing's Aaron Sorkin, Charlie Wilsons War tells the fascinating true story of Texas congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks). The film begins in 1980, with Wilson living a playboy lifestyle, until his friend and major contributor, Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) asks him to witness firsthand the plight of 5 million Afghan refugees who have fled the Soviet invasion.
Spurred into action, Wilson teams up with CIA operative Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and together they raise US funding and conduct complex negotiations between the Pakistani, Israeli and Egyptian governments in order to secretly arm the Afghan rebels against the communists. However, the film also has a subtle unspoken point to make too: that Wilson's actions essentially played a part in the emergence of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Hanks does a great job, brimming with the sort of charisma and charm that the real Charlie Wilson presumably had in spades. However, the star of the show is Hoffman, who steals every scene and delivers the sort of performance that is certain to net him a Best Supporting Actor nomination come Oscar time.
Sorkin's intelligent, sharply-written script is occasionally so fast-paced that you strain to keep up with what's going on. This works best during the film's key set-piece, with Wilson and his army of gorgeous assistants nimbly juggling an imminent sex scandal and a conversation with Gust about Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, the film suffers a little from Apollo 13 Syndrome, because as soon as you know the basic facts, nothing else actually happens and the second half of the film flags considerably as a result. Similarly, for all the hype surrounding her performance, Julia Roberts is badly miscast and barely appears in the film.
Ultimately, this is worth seeing for Hanks and Hoffman but it's neither as engaging nor as important as it thinks it is.
Charlie Wilsons War (15)