The foibles of foreign policy, the power of persuasion and the benefit of hindsight all come under scrutiny in Charlie Wilson's War. That director Mike Nichols and The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin manage to squeeze it all into a painless 90-something minutes is impressive enough, but in addition to the film's status as thought-provoking entertainment, it also finishes with one of the biggest sucker punches in recent film history.
Sorkin's economic screenplay is based on journalist George Crile's biography of Charlie Wilson. A congressman, alcoholic and womaniser, Wilson (played with customary aplomb by Hanks) was the unlikeliest hero of the Cold War, the man who got the Russians out of Afghanistan... and, of course, in the process, gave weaponry and CIA know-how to the Taliban.
That, remarkably, is not the sucker punch — too obvious! — just one of the great ironies that shades this very droll movie. The fact that Wilson's involvement was mostly due to the influence of his financial backer and occasional bed-partner Joanna Herring (Roberts) is another. For the facts of the situation, Wilson must rely on Gust Avrakatos (Hoffman, in even-more-than-usual Oscar-winning form) one of, ooh, three or four men who dictated CIA policy for that particular part of the ignored Eastern world. And has the sort of connections that will get you the anti-tank weaponry of your invaded dreams.
Nichols and Sorkin blend the politics and flat-out comedy with considerable flair, presenting the facts in clear form without once resorting to the spoonfeeding of, say, Lions For Lambs. This is intelligent movie making for intelligent people... but it won't leave the masses behind either. It deserves several pats on the back for that alone: that it does all of that AND makes you laugh out loud is a balancing act to rival the Cirque du Soleil's finest. Best of all though, the serious nature of the conflict isn't overlooked. It's virtually sumliminal at times, but it's there, and you'll find yourself thinking about the film long after it's finished.