Charlie Wilson’s War (Universal, 12.25) is a very good-but-not-great political dramedy with a very solid and settled Tom Hanks, an agreeably arch and brittle Julia Roberts (in the finest sense of that term) and a brilliant Phillip Seymour Hoffman…give this man a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and no jacking around…thank you!
It’s not a monumental achievement but that’s okay…it really is. It’s a film aimed at the over-40 set and that’s cool also. All right, yes…it feels a little too pat and tidy and perhaps a wee bit smug, but that’s fine also. There is room for this kind of thing in our moviegoing culture. Charlie-o is not a Best Picture contender but then we knew that last week when Time‘s Richard Corliss called it — the unkindest cut! — “likable.”
I liked Charlie Wilson’s War. Everyone did at tonight’s Arclight screening. If you can kick back, chill down and enjoy what’s awfully well-crafted and efficient about this film (which isn’t hard), you’ll be fine too.
Is it a great socio-political comedy in the realm of Rules of the Game? Nope, but director Mike Nichols stopped trying to be Jean Renoir or anyone on that level decades ago so what are we talking about? Nichols doesn’t open his veins and die for our sins here. CWW is not about great risk or passion. Nichols is not coming from a hungry, agitated, do-or-die place. But there is edge and attitude in this film — certainly irony upon irony. And it does stay with you.
This is a film that says “no good deed goes unpunished in the Middle East, especially with that tendency of the ball to keep bouncing.” It also says “let’s hear it for corrupt, seen-it-all jowly guys who like booze on the rocks– they can turn around and do some good from time to time. Or at least, they did once. Or one guy did anyway.” It also says, “Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a God among men.”
Trust me when I say there were no neg-head vibes in the Arclight lobby when everyone filed out of this evening’s screening. Charlie Wilson’s War is a very smart, agreeable, complex-but-digestible, sure-to-be-popular adult political drama supplanted with babes, boobs and a belly dancer. It’s a Washingtonian Middle Eastern “sand” movie that might actually find an audience by way of Tom Hanks‘ charm, an abundance of talent all around and a sense of bottom-line discipline to the thing. Maybe.
Charlie Wilson’s War has four excellent things going for it: (a) Aaron Sorkin‘s deftly phrased and densely plotted script, which results in (b) a highly intriguing first act and a crackerjack second act that constantly amuses, intrigues and leaves you hungry for more, which in turn results in (c) a sense of being treated to a very economical tale that runs only 97 minutes and, finally, (d) Hoffman’s Oscar-calibre performance as a coarse and cynical CIA operative who can’t not be blunt and corrosive, even when it comes to propositioning a Texas millionairess (i.e., Roberts) over drinks.
These four things (and they are, in a sense, separate, although they obviously support each other) make Charlie Wilson’s War more than worth seeing, and certainly Oscar-worthy as far as Sorkin’s script (the category would be Best Adapted Screenplay) and Hoffman’s performance as Gust Avrakotos, which has to be a lock for Best Supporting Actor nom. Well, it is that — I was being cautious there for a second, but screw it. Hoffman is beautiful, he can do no wrong and he never will do wrong.
I’ll say more tomorrow. I can’t write any more because it’s 11:43 pm and I have to get up very early in order to get to the IFP Spirit Awards nomination breakfast, which starts at 8 ayem…good God! Rewrites and refinements to come in the late morning.