Sunday, December 23, 2007
Movie Report: Charlie Wilson's War
Charlie Wilson's War has all the ingredients of a good movie. Big stars in Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Big director in Mike Nichols. Big writer in Aaron Sorokin (creator of The West Wing on television. The story is pretty much true. There really is a big-haired socialite in Houston by the name of Joanne King Herring (she even has a website here and she looks a lot like Julia Roberts) who was romantically involved with a playboy Texas congressman named Charlie Wilson, who resembles Tom Hanks. Herring and Wilson really did work with the CIA to covertly supply the mujahadeen of Afghanistan with arms to fight the Russians, back in the 80s.
Any Hollywood executive looking at the ingredients for this movie would reasonably conclude this is a sure fire winner. It may be a sure fire winner; I won't attempt to predict what the public and the Motion Picture Academy will think of it. I was disappointed, however. There were long stretches in which I was looking at my watch, wondering when it was going to be over, this despite the fact that the movie is relatively short, only 90 some minutes long. It felt formulaic; insert sex scene here; violent scene here; p.c. political pontification here; show Julia Roberts in a bikini, that will attract viewers. Putting the right colors on a paint-by-numbers scene does not turn it into a great piece of art.
What the Hollywood suits forgot is what any good cook knows: the right ingredients by themselves don't make a great meal; it all depends on how they're put together.
Having said that, I did like Phillip Seymour Hoffman's performance as a rogue CIA agent. I would not have predicted that he would steal the picture from stars like Hanks and Roberts, but he did, despite his unglamorous appearance.
The movie reminded me a lot of Robert Redford's recent bad political movie about Afghanistan, Lions for Lambs. It, too, had an impeccable pedigree, with Redford, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep involved in it. It, too, bombed because of an over supply of earnestness and an absence of entertainment. The sad thing is that Charlie Wilson's War could have been better; it just wasn't.
I left the theater prepared to give it two stars, the same rating I gave to Lions for Lambs, but after thinking some more about Hoffman's performance I finally upgraded it to three stars, which is average. But this should have been a five star movie.