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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.18%
Worth A Look61.82%
Average: 1.82%
Pretty Bad: 14.55%
Total Crap: 3.64%

6 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Charlie Wilson's War
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by Lybarger

"It’s like ‘Lions for Lambs,’ only it’s entertaining and sometimes profound."
4 stars

Imagine getting a fascinating, if unsettling history lesson while watching a Judd Apatow comedy like ‘Knocked Up,’ and that’s how ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ unfolds. Director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (‘The West Wing’) manage to make a lively, almost bawdy film out of an important but underappreciated subject. Running a tight 97 minutes, ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ is so amusingly absurd, it makes a typical David Lynch movie seem mundane.

Part of that can be attributed to the fact that the actual story of Charlie Wilson’s 23-year tenure in the House of Representatives is intriguingly unlikely. From 1973 to 1996, Wilson’s sole achievement seemed to be his ability to retain his seat in Texas’ second district. He lived more like a frat boy than typical politician.

Whereas most politicians would go to some trouble to hide their extramarital activities and other foibles, Wilson practically flaunted his libertine lifestyle. When asked if he had a drinking problem, Wilson (Tom Hanks) curtly replied that he would not go to rehab because they didn’t serve whiskey.

Wilson’s capable staffers were almost completely female and hired for their comely appearance. He proudly declared, “You can teach ‘em to type, but you can’t teach ‘em to grow tits.” With his shaky ethics, indifference toward “family values “and cavalier attitude toward political correctness, Wilson would probably not get elected in today’s climate.

Watching Tom Hanks, who normally plays salt-of-the-earth roles, emerging from a hot tub teeming with naked, coke-sniffing hookers is a jolt. The casting actually works because Hanks’ innate charm enables you to tolerate Wilson’s boorish behavior. Hanks is also a solid enough actor to portray the other reason why Wilson’s time in office was significant.

Wilson gradually took an intense interest in how Afghans fought for their homeland after the Soviets invaded in 1979. Hearing how the difficult the fight had been, he immediately doubled the paltry amount the U.S. government was spending on covert operations there. Wilson, despite his frivolous reputation, was genuinely moved by the plight of Afghan refugees and was outraged at Soviet atrocities.

Wilson didn’t stop with a simple stroke of a pen. He teamed up with a knowledgeable but abrasive CIA agent named Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in a turn that might just get him another Oscar nomination) and wealthy right-wing activist Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts). The unlikely trio managed to convince Congress, the Israelis, the Egyptians, the Saudis and the Pakistanis to funnel billions of arms to the struggling Afghan mujahadeen. The new weapons leveled the playing field, forcing the Soviets to retreat. They also led to the chaos that engulfed Afghanistan in the decades that followed, which in turn caused the rise of the Taliban.

Sorkin and Nichols manage to make all of these complicated alliances and backroom deals easy to follow and waste little time. Nichols also knows how to make seemingly routine scenes of coupling fascinating. Pay close attention to what happens after a tryst between Wilson and Herring. Roberts demonstrates a technique for grooming eyelashes that’s downright eerie.

Nichols, whose work ranges from the sublime “The Graduate” to the annoying “Wolf,” manages to find a tone that deftly balances the horrors of the conflict and Wilson’s comically rowdy lifestyle.

Interestingly, he and Sorkin also play down Wilson’s ideological bent. Wilson is a Democrat, and he was dubbed the “liberal from Lufkin.” But his relentless effort to help the mujahadeen were an important part of the Regan Doctrine and ended up helping the conservative president’s efforts to win the Cold War. Apparently, dogma means little when more pressing goals emerge.

While the tone of “Charlie Wilson’s War” is rollicking, it leaves an appropriate knot in a viewer’s stomach. It resoundingly proves the enemy of my enemy isn’t necessarily my friend.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 12/21/07 22:00:00
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User Comments

12/06/14 Richard Brandt Moral: Those who flunk history are doomed to repeat it. 4 stars
6/01/10 User Name One of the best of '08. 4 stars
2/27/10 Phil M. Aficiando Outstanding history, entertainment, humor, characters, and acting 5 stars
4/16/09 Potential Interesting, well made, well acted, reap what you sow 4 stars
3/31/09 MP Bartley Entertaining, if superficial. Hoffman is wonderful. 4 stars
11/23/08 CTT Nicely done, but what's the rush? 4 stars
9/04/08 Rachel Tom Hanks and Phillip Seymour Hoffman deliver the goods as usual. 5 stars
8/28/08 Shaun Wallner Interesting storyline. 4 stars
7/03/08 R.W. Welch Playboy congressman changes history. Almost surreal but pretty much true. 4 stars
6/15/08 Sam just ok .. hardly thought provoking .. documenting the involvement of CW in that war.. 2 stars
5/06/08 Random Where's the review for Woodrow Wilson's War? Now THAT was a war!!! 4 stars
5/05/08 Judy Sanders Perfect & Satisfying 5 stars
4/06/08 Jessica Bielzebub What keeps two heat-seeking missiles, fired side-by-side, from seeking each other? 3 stars
3/17/08 Natasha McVandervere Oh, how nice to know that Julia Roberts fucked Tom Hanks to help create the taliban! 2 stars
1/30/08 opossum acres a good film 4 stars
1/26/08 proper amateur film critic For a satire to bite someone has to draw blood 1 stars
12/23/07 ceredo Go see tihis !! 5 stars
12/22/07 D More revisionist leftism from irrelevant hollywood 1 stars
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  21-Dec-2007 (R)
  DVD: 22-Apr-2008



Directed by
  Mike Nichols

Written by
  Aaron Sorkin

  Tom Hanks
  Julia Roberts
  Phillip Seymour Hoffman
  Amy Adams
  Om Puri
  Jud Tylor

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