Charlie Wilson’s War is based on real-life events, but that doesn’t mean it’s awesomely compelling. Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) an almost-invisible Congressman in the 1980s who specializes in drinking and carousing, decides to push for the U.S. to aid the Afghanis, whose country has been invaded by the Soviet Union. Only they had to do it secret-like, you see, because the Cold War was ongoing at the time. Couldn’t have the Russkies knowing we were arming their enemies, because then we’d be directly involved when we wanted to remain indirectly involved. You know, because of the nukes.
Wilson can’t pull this off alone, of course, even if he’s the chairman of the committee that funds the CIA’s covert ops. The cool thing is that if Wilson asks for the budget to be increased, say, twofold, Congress sees only the amount, not the reasons underlying the increase. Even so, Wilson needs to schmooze and raise funds without blowing the cover; he’s pushed and prodded into action by a woman who can help him, wealthy Texas socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts). Herring, a devout Christian, wants to help the Afghani mujahedin to push back against the godless Communist invaders. Rounding out the team is the CIA’s own rogue renegade rebel, Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an iconoclast with the intelligence – if not the social graces – to help Wilson win his war.
Hanks turns in a pretty believable Texas twang and is a pretty good fit for the role, even when he uses profanity. I can’t remember the last time I heard Tom Hanks say the F word or be in a hot tub with naked women. Oh, wait, it might have been Bachelor Party. Somehow, even the older Hanks pulls it off. Then there’s Roberts, who’s also somewhat acceptable in her role as the Texan matron – but who must have had an on-set stylist who absolutely detested her, because she got put in some of the worst wigs known to women. (Men in general have worse wigs, obviously.) I mean, it looked like a blonde muskrat died on her head. I shouldn’t be too unkind, since the movie IS set in the 1980s, a decade infamous for its fashion choices, but the look was really awful for Roberts. And, as I mentioned, she’s somewhat acceptable – if one looks past the fact that she’s 40 playing someone considerably older but still looking like a 40 year old playing dress up.
Outshining everyone, easily, was Hoffman. It’s like the man doesn’t even have to break a sweat to outact people anymore. He’s even better than Hanks, who’s kind of restricted by the type of role that Charlie Wilson is – a fun-lovin’ Man in Charge. Supporting characters, like Hoffman’s Gust, often have more freedom to be wacky, offbeat, lovable curmudgeons. Hoffman’s fantastic, hidden beneath Gust’s bushy mustache and issuing bon mots; he steals the movie from the bigger stars (Oscar win notwithstanding) with a grumpy, energetic performance.
All in all, Charlie Wilson’s war is simply okay, a decent biopic about a man and situation unfamiliar to most people. It’s helped quite a bit by its superstar cast (and direction by Mike Nichols), but it’s not interesting enough to warrant much attention. When Hanks, Roberts, and Hoffman have retired from acting, this movie will appear only as a blip, a footnote in otherwise memorable careers.