Wednesday, January 2, 2008

How to Defeat Communism Without Really Trying

Review: Charlie Wilson's War

The movies exist to bring people together in the communal act of laughing, crying, and screaming together. Politics exist to drive people apart in the tribal act of laughing, crying, and screaming at each other. So when Hollywood tries bringing Capitol Hill insight to the multiplex, the results are seldom pretty.

Nearly all political movies fall into two categories: those that stick to a specific credo and proceed to ram it in your face (see the recent failure of Lions For Lambs or the bizarre rantings of Oliver Stone’s JFK), and those like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Dave that take an airy, idealistic stance that seldom goes deeper than “ain’t America grand!” While the latter are often an enjoyable and uplifting experience, you can’t claim to have learned much about what makes the USA tick.

There is, however, a rare and wonderful middle ground: movies that put quality first, but at the same time enrich the viewer via some degree of depth regarding history, politics, war, and life. Dr. Strangelove was one of those movies, as were M*A*S*H, Platoon, and Wag the Dog. Now as America begins to put the events of the last decade into perspective, the excellent Charlie Wilson’s War is well poised to join their ranks.

Building on Mike Nichols’ solid directing and Aaron Sorkin’s brisk, witty screenplay, Tom Hanks robustly embodies real life congressman Charlie Wilson who, in the early 1980s, found himself an unlikely co-conspirator in a secret effort to fund Afghani rebels in their fight against the Soviet Union, paving the way to the end of the Cold War. Along for the ride are Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a hilariously blunt CIA analyst and Julia Roberts as an irascible socialite who seems to believe that she can defeat communism through the sheer force of her fundraising dinner parties.

Charlie Wilson is a hard drinking womanizer whose greatest accomplishment throughout six terms in congress is “getting reelected five times” but during a bout of coke addled hot tubbing in Vegas, a news report about the futile efforts of the mujahideen to repel their oppressors catches his eye, leading Charlie to flex his power on a defense appropriations committee to lend them a hand. The escalation that follows is a stranger than fiction ride through black ops, tenuous international relations, and stunning echoes of what Afghanistan would become in the years leading up to 9/11.

And did I mention that it’s really funny? Buoyed by its sense of humor and dependably top notch performances from its stars, Charlie Wilson entertains, teaches, and gives a wide range of insights to ponder, all while clocking in at an effortless 97 minutes with no time left over to get preachy or sluggish. With its slew of Golden Globe nominations, Charlie is sure to stay visible throughout awards season. And as long as there are teachers in the world as cool as the ones I’ve had, it should earn immortality as a great way to spend a couple periods in high school and collge history classes. Don’t miss it.

Grade: A-


Kakashi said...

Excellent. Your writing is a joy to read, with the evident flexing of your well toned critical muscles. In other words: Damn, I wish my prose and critical writing were as sparkling as yours. Well done, my friend. Well done.

Kakashi said...

Btw, I'd recommend adding some pictures to your reviews, the movie poster, maybe even a YouTube video of the film's trailer. It makes the post more visually appealing.

paulthezag said...

Thanks for the praise! And I totally should figure out the whole embedded content gig. Sometime in the next day or two, hopefully.

Byron said...

Excellent review >I do want to check that movie out. I waa a bit dissapointed to hear that there was apparently no mention in the movie of Zbigniew Brezinski's role in the orchestration of the entire "Afgan Trap" foreign policy. Not terribly surprising, I suppose.