Thursday, 4 December 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

Lowdown: Fighting the Russians in Afghanistan as a demonstration for the fallibilities of our political system.
There is something weird about Charlie Wilson’s War. For a film featuring the likes of Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman there was an awful little I could boast to know about it prior to watching it; I didn’t even know what genre the film is. As I started watching it the uncertainty continued: a caption told me that what I was watching is based on true events, but then again the events taking place on the screen and the way these events were taking place on my screen were far from the way I would have expected a reality based film to take place. I was still unable to reliably determine whether I was watching a drama or a comedy.
Which is probably what director Mike Nichols (The Graduate, and more recently Closer) had planned for us, and exactly why Charlie Wilson’s War works as effectively as it does.
As Charlie Wilson the film starts, we are introduced to Charlie Wilson (Hanks) – an American hero of the war in Afghanistan, that is the war to oust the invading Soviet Union out of Afghanistan during the eighties. Then we go back in time, and the next thing we know we have a scene with Hanks in a Vegas jacuzzi together with some sleazy characters, strippers and nudity. Slowly, we learn that Hanks is a senator (yes, an elected senator) from Texas who definitely loves the opposite sex. Loves it so much that in order to get in bed with Julia Roberts, a Christian evangelist that believes the USA should do more to help rid Afghanistan of Soviets, he agrees to use his senate committee influence. Roberts pushes Hanks to visit neighboring Pakistan, where he ends up in a refugee camp that leaves its impression on him.
Thus one thing leads to another, and before you know it Hanks, together with a very unconventional CIA agent (Seymour Hoffman) is deeply into pulling strings all around the world to secure weapons for the Afghan Mujahidin and to secure their finances. It all seems to work: the American budget for the war in Afghanistan grows from five million dollars a year to a billion, and Soviet planes and helicopters are dropping out of the sky. Eventually, though, when the Soviets run out of Afghanistan, no one in the USA listens to Charlie Wilson anymore. The ground is thus set for the likes of the Taliban and Al Qaeda to prosper.
Having seen the film, I can now attest to Charlie Wilson’s War being a comedy. I have no idea whether the events depicted in it really took place or not, and I don’t think that is the film's point; the point of Charlie Wilson’s War is to point a finger at the way the political processes that shape the really heavy policies our society has to contend with – say, the so called War on Terror – and show how badly these processes are run. Charlie Wilson’s War is never a film that will make you laugh out loud (at least not in long bursts); it’s a film that will make you think, a comedy heavy on irony and cynicism. A smart person’s comedy, if you like.
There is not much in the political system that Charlie Wilson’s War doesn’t mock. You have the evangelists mingling in worldly affairs, Hanks admitting to be elected by his Jewish contributors rather than his Texan very not Jewish electorate (thus explaining where his loyalties are), and of course there’s the way the budget for the Afghan war is set through the whim of just a couple of people. In general, between sex and drugs, morality is entirely optional in Charles Wilson’s world; and that’s the point the film is trying to make, because it is this immoral world that pulls the strings of "our" world.
Most memorable scene: Tom Hanks, strippers, and nudity. I admit, the nudity is not the boldest ever, but still – who would have thought the three could be placed together in the same sentence? Now, nudity on its own is of not much good; the point I am trying to make here is that Charlie Wilson’s War is a fairly unconventional film in the way it brings forth its agenda, and this scene proves it.
Technical assessment: Rarely do I recall a DVD featuring such a heavily compressed picture. It’s like VHS! The sound is very ordinary, too.
Overall: Original and thus well worth watching. 3.5 out of 5 stars.


Wicked Little Critta said...

I just saw this over the weekend! I didn't really know much about it before seeing it either, but I was pleasantly surprised. It forces us to think, at lease momentarily, about how these big political decisions are really made.
The DVD we watched had a bonus feature about the true story and interviews with Wilson and the real life characters. Didn't watch it all, it was too late...but it looked informative.
In closing, I love Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Moshe Reuveni said...

I agree about Hoffman, but I think his best performance was in Along Came Polly. I reckon I'm in a minority there, but I think the guy has this huge talent for comedy.
As for Wilson, our DVD had lots of stuff on the real guy too, but it was a rental and we didn't have much time to watch those. We're so sleep deprived we can hardly take the movies themselves nowadays...