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Charlie Wilson's War

Charlie Wilson's War

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

HOLLYWOOD continues to roll out the big guns in its attempts to get people to see films inspired by the war on terror. Months after Robert Redford teamed up with Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep for Lions For Lambs, Tom Hanks delivers a tantalising true-life tale that’s backed by some of the very best talent in front of and behind the camera.

Hanks produces and co-stars alongside Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman, while Mike (The Graduate/Closer) Nichols directs from a screenplay by Aaron (West Wing) Sorkin.

The result is Charlie Wilson’s War, a biting, razor-sharp and extremely well acted satire that takes a look at the true events that helped to shape the world in which we live today.

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by 60 Minutes journalist George Crile, the film follows the fortunes of Texas congressman Charlie Wilson (Hanks), a Democrat, womaniser and alcoholic whose fear of Communism prompted him to help finance the war against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the ‘80s.

Enlisting the help of wealthy socialite Joanna Herring (Julia Roberts) and volatile CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Wilson succeeded in pulling off the biggest covert operation in history, whilst inadvertently contributing to what came next (albeit some 12 or so years later).

Nichols’ film offers a remarkable insight into the backroom deals that helped shape Wilson’s triumph, flitting between Washington’s corridors of power and frontline Afghanistan. It’s a whirlwind affair that makes its points clearly and incisively in just over 90 minutes thanks to Sorkin’s sparkling script and the quality of its performances.

Hanks is clearly revelling in a role that requires him to mix personal excess with global astuteness, while Roberts enjoys some sharp interplay with him as both benefactor and lover. But it’s Hoffman who steals the show, his no-nonsense, grizzled veteran providing the perfect foil to whomever he comes up against.

There are criticisms, of course, such as the softly-softly approach adopted towards some of Wilson’s less savoury practices, or the thankless opportunities offered to both Emily Blunt and Amy Adams in relatively token support roles. And Nichols’ over-use of archive footage from the Afghan-Russian war also becomes repetitive and lessens its overall effect.

But given the relevance of the events it depicts and the fact that it refuses to take itself too seriously, whilst still delivering a killer sting in its tale, this is a lively and provocative satire that deserves to find a much wider audience than it will probably get.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 95mins
UK DVD Release Date: May 5, 2008