Review: Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

Directed by: Mike Nichols | 102 minutes | drama, comedy, biography | Actors: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel Nichols, Ned Beatty, Shiri Appleby, Erick Avari, Mayte Garcia, John Slattery, Maulik Pancholy, Jud Tylor, Nazanin Boniadi, Shaun Toub, Om Puri Mary Page Keller, Faran Tahir, Lorna Scott, Cyia Batten, PJ Byrne, Takayo Fischer, Ron Fassler, Jackie Swanson, Hilary Angelo, Brian Markinson, Nathalie Walker, Spencer Garrett, Carly Reeves, Alexandra Rieger, Kevin Cooney, Anthony Azizi

‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ is a movie from which you can expect a lot based on the credits. The director is Mike Nichols, a Hollywood veteran who in the 1960s was responsible for classics such as ‘The Graduate’ and ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf’, and who added a new pinnacle to his oeuvre in 2004 with the crackling stage adaptation ‘Closer’. The writer is Aaron Sorkin, who wrote excellent screenplays for both film (‘A Few Good Men’) and television (‘West Wing’). And then there’s an all-star cast that includes actors like Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts.

With all that talent, it’s almost impossible to make a bad movie, and ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ didn’t become a bad movie. Despite the complicated subject matter, the story of a congressman who almost single-handedly ends the cold war, is set out smoothly and clearly. Because ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ mainly wants to be a satire, it’s nice that the humor is really laughable. The dialogues are witty and intelligent, although sometimes a bit too much. But the actors also deliver craftsmanship, which again confirms Nichols’ fame as an actor’s director.

The fact that ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ is not entirely successful is partly due to the remarkable combination of genres chosen. Although the film is said to be a satire, it also claims to tell the true story of Charles Wilson and the political events of his time. The problem is that the two genres (which essentially exclude each other) always clash. For example, against caricatured Russian pilots and gullible Afghan fighters, is a flesh-and-blood liberal congressman who, despite his debauched lifestyle, has a heart of gold.

Equally problematic is the claim to historical correctness. The idea that the secret US training and arming of Afghan rebels was a one-man action by a well-meaning US congressman is not very credible to say the least. It seems more like a widely supported (but now much criticized) interference, being blamed on the good intentions of an individual.

Unfortunately, this message is not the only one that shines through the semi-satire. When Charlie Wilson suggests at the end of the film that Americans should stay longer in the areas they’ve liberated—to help rebuild—such a comment seems to refer as much to the time in which this film was made (2007) as it does. at the time when Wilson was a congressman. This also gives this (in itself sympathetic) message a political air. Those veiled political messages, together with the uneasy genre mix, ensure that this comedy is never quite successful. Add to that the ostentatious chauvinism and the implicit claim to America’s moral superiority, and it’s safe to say that ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ didn’t turn out to be the movie we had hoped for.

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