Sunday, January 13, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

The verdict: Polished Hollywood fare. Hoffman steals the show and Hanks is great, but the movie, although diverting enough, isn't brilliant.

The rating: 6/10

Now, if Hollywood ever needed to put an Oscar-worthy 5-a-side team together, they need look no further than the cast and crew that was assembled to tell the story of Charlie Wilson's War. Team CWW already has a fair collection of golden paperweights between them…

But before we get into all that, here’s the skinny: Charlie Wilson was a Texas congressman who managed to – almost single-handedly – arm the Afghans in the late eighties, allowing them to successfully defend against a Soviet invading force. All this, using American money and weapons of Soviet origin, provided by a thoroughly unlikely alliance between Egypt and Israel.

The movie is scripted by Aaron Sorkin – he of 'West Wing' fame, and directed by a certain Mike Nichols (you may remember him from such movies as 'The Graduate' and 'Catch 22'), so our team of super-friends is off to a pretty good start already... As for the people in front of the camera, Tom Hanks plays the quick-witted, Texan congressman who likes to sip whisky at ten a.m., and is a celebrated lothario on Capitol Hill. Wilson is assisted in his political machinations by the thoroughly undiplomatic CIA man Gust Avrokatos, played with portly aplomb by Philip Seymour Hoffman. As if that wasn’t enough, Julia Roberts even pops up, and for a moment you'd be forgiven for thinking this was the next Danny Ocean flick..

Thankfully it's not as vacuous as the Ocean franchise, but the sum of the efforts of all these a-listers is unfortunately not as impressive as you might expect. Hanks is perfectly cast, and as likeable and vulnerable as ever in the lead role, but he shouldn’t win any Oscars with this performance. Unfortunately, Julia Roberts is miscast in my book, she's simply too glamorous for the role, which needed someone with a little, well.. older, like Michelle Pfeiffer perhaps. Our Joolz seems trapped in her Danny Ocean school of acting, where simply being there with the right hairdo is enough to keep the audience happy (she's capable of better than this). Unfortunately for Julia, her male co-stars are far from phoning it in, so she appears wooden in comparison.

The standout performance is Philip Seymour Hoffman's though, and right from his first moments in front of the camera, Sorkin’s sharp dialogue allows Capote-man to almost literally chew the scenery. His character rapidly becomes the liveliest and most interesting in the film, and he has the best chance of an Oscar of anyone in the CWW team.

The first hour of the movie is great, but towards the end, it devolves and almost fizzles out completely by the end, due to a montage! Yep, as Team America said, when you need to move things along, you need a montage. Unfortunately, after 75 minutes of CWW, there was still a fair chunk of story to tell, so this dirty device is employed. The montage sequence detracts from the impact of the movie, placed as it is less than ten minutes before the end.

That said, CWW is enjoyable, polished Hollywood entertainment, with enough quality to be watchable. Unfortunately, it doesn't ever reach the high standards that its cast and crew might lead you to expect.

Charlie Wilson's War is in cinemas now


reel inspiration said...

Liked your well thought out review. I was underwhelmed with Charlie Wilson's War. And you articulated that perfectly.

PaddyC said...

Thanks, glad you agreed. I don't think this one will live long in the memory once the genuine quality starts filtering through ('No Country..', 'There Will be Blood' etc)

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