When a movie attempts to deal with something serious in a comic (and not a satirical) manner there is a great possibility that same theme will be undermined. Charlie Wilson’s War is a charming recount of a not so charming period (if there ever was one) in American foreign affairs. There wouldn’t be any problem with its depiction though, if only it wasn’t based on true people and their actions, the consequences of which still haunt us today.
Don’t get me wrong, i can surely laugh with the simple minded approach to the cold war and the whiskey soaked idealism of a Texas good ol’ liberal boy like Charlie Wilson, the Winston Churchill wannabe that couldn’t see a second ahead of his actions. And as hard as my nationality (i’m Greek) makes it, i can still crack a smile at the rough-cut charm appointed by the film-makers to the notorious (in his country of origin among others) Gust Avrakotos. But as much as people can often be acquitted of their faults due to stupidity, they will never be able to shake them off due to this kind of elaborate cuteness.
Apart from that, when seen in cinematic terms this is a better-than-average film. It’s well paced and extremely well acted (Hanks and Hoffman are at their best here) while the comedy is subtle and merits from its great timing. Still, as much as my eyes enjoyed it, it speculates a bit too much on open cleavages and simplistic setups, like Wilson getting wired about the news from Afghanistan while socializing in a hot-tub in Vegas (come on…) or his motivational childhood story about falling in love with America. This is not fiction, but real life facts about something a lot larger than the average viewer (like me i guess), things we always suspect but are never told about.
To the director (Mike Nichols) and writer’s (Aaron Sorkin) benefit i have to admit that they made otherwise complicated procedures seem quite clear, and in a small amount of screen time. That serves the cinematic experience way more than trying to be profound by force, though it leaves out of the story some darker but essential aspects. On the other hand, maybe “Syriana’s” approach was too complicated to follow but it certainly had a lot more to say than the obvious: let’s give them guns to shoot at the commies, but what happens afterwards? Duh!
Of course, the commies are shot at a lot, and the director chooses to turn his comedy into a documentary for no reason at all, showing original footage, recounting the numbers of airplanes or helicopters that the reds lost before they packed it for good. A bit too serious a note amidst a light film like this.
Another annoying detail is the clean-cut depiction of the rich socialite christian anti-commy lobbyist Mrs Herring (Julia Roberts). I guess there’s a lot of unexplainable love flowing around in this movie. Too bad this isn’t Marry Poppins’ land and although we are never informed over what happened to Charlie Wilson during the Al-Qaeda years, we can surely take a wild guess since he comes out as a clever individual in the end.
This is an entertaining movie that exposes a situation but fails completely in it’s political critique. For those interested there’s always George Crile’s book by the same name. Judging by the excerpts i read there’s no comedy in that. Watch, laugh, learn and seek the truth elsewhere.