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Published May 7th, 2007 | by Mike Barnard

Charlie Wilson’s War Review

Classification: 15 Director: Mike Nichols Rating: 3.5/5

Tom Hanks seems to enjoy occupying the moral centre of movies. Stuck on a desert island, lost in space and even as hitman Michael Sullivan in Road to Perdition, he tends to play characters striving to do their best in some way. As the titular character in Charlie Wilson’s War he steps into the shoes of the real-life playboy congressman who engineered the biggest covert operation in US history by supplying Afghan freedom fighters with weapons to take on the Soviet Union. The sight of a semi-naked, cigar-smoking Hanks in a hot tub with girls on each arm and plenty more as his office secretaries suggest the liberal Texas politician will be a hard man to like, but the Hollywood A-lister simply wouldn’t let that happen. Whether you believe it’s the truth might be another matter.

Playboy Charlie Wilson enjoyed the good life in office, surrounding himself with women, alcohol and even facing allegations of cocaine use, although they never resulted in any charges. But the most positive act he will be remembered for is his assistance given to the Afghan resistance, primarily the mujahideen, against Soviet invasion during the Cold War. His raising of US funding for covert operations against the Red Army from $5million to a staggering $1billion was a staggering achievement and for this retelling Oscar-winning director Mike Nichols up sells the glamour and risk into an almost back-slappingly jovial degree.

When Charlie catches a news report talking about the struggles of the Afghans against the Soviets, it isn’t long before he is enlisting the help of Houston socialite and active anti-communist Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) and renegade CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) to divert arms into the hands of the defending force. To this end the film offers a fascinating insight into the scheming done behind the closed doors of governments and the lively social scene enjoyed by those in powerful positions. Charlie and Joanne get up close and personal while smart-talking Gust gets on with much of the dirty work as things start falling into place rather too easily for loveable rough Charlie — which is exactly how it remains.

With Roberts and Hoffman on top form as the supporting roles to Hanks, Charlie Wilson’s War was always going to be absorbing to watch, but they do display the same kind of irritating casual swagger seen in Ocean’s 11. It all seems a little too easy and self-congratulatory for the three leading characters, and their smug demeanour can be irritating as they toast themselves in a “we’re so great” way. Yet, Charlie Wilson’s War is imbued with subtle humour and you can’t help but cheer Charlie on to succeed in his valiant, off-the-radar political mission and forget about his more selfish partying ways. Hoffman almost steals the show at times, however Hanks is in his element. Despite the suggestion this could be a sugar-coated version of events leaving out any direct hints of how America could have ended up funding Osama Bin Laden, Charlie Wilson’s War is a glossy take on a true story with excellent performances all round.

The Making Of Charlie Wilson’s War and “Who Is Charlie Wilson?” feature.

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