Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Movie Review: Charlie Wilson's War.

Much like The Departed (reviewed here: and then scroll down below this post), Charlie Wilson's War's promise emanates from its assembly of stars.

Tom Hanks, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts supply the acting chops. Aaron Sorkin brings the writing credibility. And Mike Nichols furnishes the directing skill.

With all these luminaries, it's a "can't miss", right? Not exactly.

While the movie hits a target, it doesn't quite pierce the bulls-eye. Based on a true episode, it offers the story of a Texas Congressman who uses his power over the nation's purse to fund Afghans' resistance to Soviets' occupation of their country in the 1980s. The movie never really explains Wilson's (Tom Hanks) transformation from the go-along, get-along insignificant Congressman to a engaged, effective, transformative one. While there is a quick shot of Wilson at a refugee camp, it's doubtful that this singular event changed Wilson's motives, message and methods, although plausible.

Also, while the movie lauds Wilson as a warts-and-all type hero, I am not sure that Wilson is even a hero. He essentially spent other people's money in hidden appropriation bills (increasing military funding for Afghan rebels from five million to $500 million), even confessing that what he did came dangerously close to violating the Logan Act. Moreover, the movie's epilogue basically admits that arming these folks against one enemy ultimately backfired against the United States.

The movie also displays Sorkin's trademarked witty dialogue, but I actually thought it would be more pervasive. Hoffman's character supplies most of it, depending heavily on a comic use of profanity.

Nichols' direction serves as an exemplar for brevity. The film concludes under one hour and 40 minutes and moves briskly. However, I thought the Afghanistan battle scenes look rather inexpensive, especially given its $70 million budget. For example, the movie employs a fade-to- fire effect that's simply a fade-to-black with a lighter hue.

Charlie Wilson's War earns a B+.