Monday, December 24, 2007

And let that be our legacy

With Charlie Wilson's War Aaron Sorkin roars back to top form screenwriter with a clever , blistering screenplay about how the well intentioned work of a liberal Texas senator eventually led to our current geopolitical landscape. Despite the serious ramifications Sorkin keeps things light but sharp. While there are a number of talents worth applauding both in front of and behind the camera let there be no doubt that this always feels like Sorkin work and that's a good thing.

The story revolves around the titular Wilson who from his first scene separates himself from from the typical Sorkin do-gooder by being surrounded by playboy playmates, coke (though he doesn't partake) and hot-tubing would-be TV producers. What catches Charlie's eye amongst the bacchanal is a special investigative report about the struggling Afghanis fighting communist in the 1980's. Charlie though, actually has the clout to do something about this as he has a crucial chair in the defense appropriations subcommittee. So he quickly doubles the budget for aide to Afghanistan from a paltry 5 to 10 million, but after encouragement from a wealthy Texas heiress (Julia Roberts) and somewhat illegal jostling from disgruntled CIA agent Gust Avrakatos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) Wilson becomes increasingly invested in fighting the communists and helping the war-torn Afghanis. This oddball three person team forever changes the world completely under the notice of the media, its too fantastic to be true, but it's complete non-fiction. Nichols does a fine job of giving a wide cinematic scope to the proceedings, keeping characters and locales hopping ensuring that you're never watching a bunch of talking heads. Even when it's just two chracters in a room Nichols ensure there are solid bits of business that not only underline bits of character but are endearingly cinematic (a certain someone's rear gets trailed by the camera as she moves down the hallway with critical news for our congressman, who could make me so excited, read on).

The film educates but it never feels like a history class, it's fun and jostling, echoing its protagonist. Hanks is having fun here as he's not playing just dramatic noble Hanks but in a way calling back the more wily and playful Bachelor Party and Bosom Buddies era Hanks. Wilson is rarely without a cocktail in his hand, possesses a voracious sexual appetite and has an army of incredibly hot but competent assistants (dubbed appropriately enough Charlie's Angels) led by (oh how this makes me giddy) Amy Adams (swooooon). When questioned about this one of the assistant's explains his philosophy "You can teach them to type but you can't teach them to grow tits", we're well out of President Bartlett's office here. But Charlie's tenacity transfers over to the political world making him an appealing mover and shaker who in the end becomes truly committed and puts a damper on his more lascivious vices.

Of course without proper intel Wilson would be at a loss which is where the bristling Gust Avrakatos comes in. Hoffman plays the character with gusto, abandoning the moroseness and desperation of the last two characters he played this year and creating a wry, uber-competent company man. Hoffman wears his paunch, bad tie and worse mustache like battle armor as he barges into one situation after another like a bulldozer who wants to just get the problem solved immediately. He steals every scene he's in, biting into Sorkin's dialogue like it's a snickers bar. If Seymour is the highlight of the film it's lowlight is Roberts. She's completely servicable in the part of a blustery Texas heiress with a passion for Jesus and the betterment of Middle Eastern countries. Then again Roberts as anyone but Roberts these days is a bit hard to believe. There's a reason she basically played herself in Notting Hill, Ocean's Twelve and alluded to it in America's Sweethearts. I just don't buy her. Oh and also she gives Adams and the angels a hard time so boom right away she's on my shit list. Still Roberts presence has been played up more for the sake of bringing butts to seats then is proportionate to her actual role in the movie. Oh the perils of being a movie about current events these days.
Of course Charlie Wilson's War separates itself from the pack by being fun. A lot of fun. Could a bugged bottle of scotch, a belly-dancer and three guys in a room have completely changed the world? Sorkin certain makes you believe it. Oh sure it reminds you that for all his good intentions Wilson was essentially arming what would become our enemy but the film's final mantra "we'll see" Sorkin reminds us that history is never over and there is still a chance for us to make it right. It's certainly more uplift then audiences got from Lions for Lambs or In the Valley of Elah. After all wasn't it Sorkin who said:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Do you know why? Because it's the only thing that ever has.

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