Remember When We Were the Good Guys?
December 23, 2007
After turning down offers to write for Yesterday’s Salad, and/or be a journalist for Rolling Stone Magazine, 1976-1979, former YS fav Aaron Sorkin decided that the best way to resurrect his fading career was with a political comedy, Charlie Wilson’s War. Charlie has many of the flaws of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (too much focus on God and religion) and not enough of the strengths (there are barely any scenes where characters chat while walking down hallways), and from time to time the movie is incredibly heavy-handed. Still, Charlie Wilson’s War is likeable, and if it doesn’t reach the highs of seasons 2 or 3 of The West Wing, it’s about as good as your average episode of Sports Night.
Tom Hanks gives a very good performance as Charlie Wilson. Wilson is not a very demanding part, but Hanks gives it his all nonetheless, becoming the character. He stops being Tom Hanks about 10 minutes in. Except when he cries. Julia Roberts looks fantastic and does a nice job delivering her lines. Philip Seymour Hoffman is excellent and quite funny, bringing a devilish playfulness to the part. The performance is almost a parody of his character in Mission: Impossible III; both characters are players in the game of global espionage, and both have the means to kill at a moment’s notice, but CWWPSH (whew!) is a deadpan bureaucrat. He jokes, but he’s almost more terrifying because we believe he can deliver on his threats. (Plus, there’s no Ethan Hunt to save us.)
The movie falters near the end. If No Country for Old Men was unsatisfying because everything was so open, Charlie Wilson’s War has the opposite problem of trying to make everything nice and neat. The action stops and everyone starts making speeches about what it all means, about the problems of getting involved in other countries and then disappearing, about the problems of wars fought for God, about the problems of arming Afghanistan. The themes themselves are unavoidable and worth telling; the problem is in the execution. Sorkin underestimates his audience. The people going to his movies are literate liberals who already hold his political views. He doesn’t need to hammer the point home as much as he does.
Charlie Wilson’s War will probably not be nominated for Best Picture. Then again, far worse movies have been.
Note: There has been a lot of movie coverage around here recently. My next post will probably have something to do with the Simpsons, Mass Transit, words, and alcohol. My plan is to review as many of the Academy Award favorites as I can. Please let me know if this is a good idea, or a bad idea.