Charlie Wilson was a man who took risks with seemingly no regard to the danger he was placing himself in. He would rather make a joke than admit defeat. Ultimately, when he's resolved to take action, he lowers his head and rams into adversity - crashing down hallways and flying in jet airplanes, unflappable and resolute.
Charlie Wilson's War
is no different. Helmed by one of the greatest directors of all time, Academy and Tony award winner Mike Nichols
," "Catch 22
," "The Birdcage
," "Primary Colors
" and Broadways' "Spamalot," "Odd Couple," and "Barefoot in the Park"), the film takes as many risks as its hero. Some pay off, and some do not. It's lighthearted when times are dark, it's unflappable and fast even if the audience needs a moment to digest, and it pushes hard for its message.
Perhaps its greatest and most successful turn is playing the upbeat when so many other movies take the quick and easy road to the dramatic. For an extremely dark story, "Charlie Wilson's War" puts comedy first. It boasts an Oscar winning trio in Tom Hanks
, Julia Roberts
, and Philip Seymour Hoffman
, all proven dramatic actors. But all three play into Nichol's flair for funny.
Charlie Wilson's War ~ © Universal Pictures
While Hanks is solid in his performance, he is an actor who has peaked so high that a role played well can still feel like a disappointment. This is the case with Charlie Wilson. He shows some flashes of "Hankian" brilliance, but Wilson is no Forrest Gump
Julia Roberts is all right if you like Julia Roberts with a southern accent - that's basically what you're getting. Other than her name and classic beauty, she contributes little to the film, mostly staying out of the way of the bigger scenes.
Then there is Hoffman, who with every picture is solidifying his place as one of the greatest character actors of all time. It's easy to forget just how good Phillip Seymour is until you see him in his latest picture. He is an actor who continues to reinvent his range, style, and passion for the individuality and beauty in his characters- even though they are all slobs.
But what about "Charlie Wilson's War's" greatest dare - the dare to be great? Released just in time for Oscar and Golden Globe season, there is no doubt about the filmmakers' intentions. Yet it again falls short of that similar Tom Hanks masterpiece. While "Forrest Gump" and "Wilson" both show a man impacting America, only in "Gump" does the world seem to return the favor to the title character. "Charlie Wilson's War" never quite gets around to the effects of the actions on the heroes.
Its passage of time is choppy. One instant, 10 minutes is 10 minutes, the next it's two and a half years. During these massive leaps in time, the moment neither commits to montage nor to linear scene progression - merely it swooshes through a timeline like a walking scene on "The West Wing
." Talk fast and walk fast, and everyone accepts that this is how it really is.
Were the actions of "Charlie Wilson's War" really accurate? Probably not, but the movie doesn't really give you a chance to wonder.
As part of this runaway theme, Nichols has trouble selecting a style. Some scenes have the feel of a Wes Anderson movie - crisp, clear, and fast imagery that is almost cartoonish and a point of view shot from a helicopter shooting down the enemy. The next moment, the same chopper is shot as news footage a la "Gump." One scene later, it feels like "Boogie Nights
" - sex, drugs and corruption. Wrap it all up with the "West Wing" "walk and talk" and a few "Mission Impossible
" war room settings and you have a movie that just refuses to settle down.
Charlie Wilson's War ~ © Universal Pictures
The result is a loss of personal meaning. Comedy in these settings can be a powerful tool, but it's never put to real use. Despite some wonderful acting, the film never gives the characters a chance to go beyond delivery of the lines. There isn't enough time around the moments that should hold some significance and not enough reality to counterbalance the comedy.
This, in the end, is what holds "Charlie Wilson" back. At times, this movie is fun. Despite its "don't hold back" attitude about shoving the point down the audience's gullet, it has a good message. Unfortunately, it just doesn't seem to take that next step. The story is one of momentous occasion, but the movie is one that entertains and then is forgotten. In many ways, this makes "Charlie Wilson's War" a success, but in others, it's a waste.
Review by James Fagan
Starpulse contributing writer