Charlie Wilson's War

I have to admit, going in I was lukewarm at best about the prospects of "Charlie Wilson’s War." I like Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Mike Nichols well enough, though not to any kind of completist degree. Julia Roberts, on the other hand, tends to be a deterrent.

The real wild card here was Aaron Sorkin.

I was an avid enthusiast of Sports Night, which at the time seemed like a revelation to me, and a huge* fan of The West Wing. But all the meta-wanking on Studio 60 really soured me on Sorkin, to such an extent that it actually began to retroactively affect my appreciation for TWW and SN. Turns out my apprehension was misplaced. I’m happy to report that adapting a non-fiction book about a skirt-chasing Washington nobody who undertakes on a personal quest to fund and arm the Afghani mujahideen against the Soviets is a perfect platform for Sorkin’s style.

The script crackles with the dialogue that made The West Wing sing, but the self-righteousness is kept to a low simmer, and the irksome self-referential shenanigans that plagued Studio 60 are nowhere to be seen. The writing is just what it should be—lean, forceful and evocative, deftly blending pathos and humor without ever sounding too pleased with itself. The final upshot of the film has just enough of a “hate to say I told you so” message to be satisfying (in a vexing way) without forcing you to acknowledge what a preternatural alchemist of politics and pop culture the screenwriter is.

The performances range from outstanding (Hoffman is his usual tour-de-force self) to serviceable to just plain maddening. Can someone please explain the Julia Roberts mystique to me? I don’t mind that she plays herself—in fact, I kind of liked her in Erin Brockovich (though I prefer to think of it as a Steven Soderberg film more than a Julia Roberts vehicle). But it’s when she adds a accent so half-assed and straight from the Foghorn Leghorn Big Book of Dialects that it becomes off-putting. It’s like watching the Bizarro World’s Meryl Streep. And I don’t understand why otherwise astute and capable directors don’t catch it. I suppose it has to do with the whole drawing power of a name like hers above the title, but it seem counter-intuitive to me to use a movie star to get people into the theatre, only to piss them off with an annoying performance that undermines the overall effectiveness of the film.

In any case, I was able to get past it and enjoy the film (no thanks to the septuagenarian chatty Cathys all around us). I'd love to see Sorkin get a nomination for adapted screenplay, though the award would and should go to the Coen's for "No Country for Old Men." "Charlie Wilson's War isn't in that league, but it was a perfect afternoon matinée/getaway with my wife.

*Anyone of appropriately sufficient TWW ardor will know this is properly pronounced “yoodj”


Jamie said...

I was hoping to see a review on the new Bruckheimer film "National Treasure 2."

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way - Julia Roberts is not an actress that makes me want to see a movie - quite the opposite. I can like seeing her on a talk show, but not be able to stand her in a movie. (Is this a weird nod to liking her as a person but not as an artist - and I use that term loosely?) I do love Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman, however... so I've been very curious about this one. Thanks so much for the review!! (Foghorn Leghorn Big Book of Dialects - mwaaahahahaha!!!)

Bet said...

By darnit to heck, I want your CD Mix Exchange list - knowing the foreign song alone is driving me flat-ass nutso crazy.