Charlie Wilson’s War (** 1/2)

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The story of Charlie Wilson, the congressman from Texas who helped defeat the Russians from Afghanistan, could’ve made a great movie. It still could, but this film isn’t it. When a film has this much star power, both on and off the screen, you think it might make a pretty good flick. You’d be wrong. One problem with the film is its short running time. 97 minutes is not long enough to tell a story of this magnitude, you need time to develop the characters, the plot, give it depth and meaning. It feels like how scenes and character relationships have been left out of the final film. Mike Nichols is a good director, but he needs to file this movie away in the “almost” file. Charlie Wilson’s War starts out as a satiric character study of a flawed but deeply fascinating man, and then, once Charlie Wilson visits a refugee camp on the border in Pakistan, it turns into a deeper, more thought-provoking film. Either of these types of films would be fine, if Nichols could’ve pulled either off. The aforementioned refugee camp scene is successful on its own (especially the shot of Wilson looking at the enormity of the camp), but I wish it belonged to a film that deserved it. The same goes for the performances of Tom Hanks as Charlie Wilson and Philip Seymour Hoffman as CIA agent Gust Avrakotos. Hanks is such a famous star that sometimes it’s easy to forget what a good actor he actually is. Here, he creates a character who charms and aw-shucks his way in and out of potentially career-ending situations with graceful ease. He also gets to deliver several pretty good lines. And Hoffman’s Avrakotos is a force of nature, or at least for his first four or five scenes. Julia Roberts, on the other hand, is totally miscast as a Texan ultra-right wing millionaire. I’d say her work here is borderline awful, though it doesn’t help that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin hasn’t really written her much of a role. That’s another thing about the film, it’s written by Sorkin, who is usually such a witty and intelligent writer, and Charlie Wilson’s War is more or less a slog fest, with the occasional good line here or there. Amy Adams also has a thankless role as Wilson’s hero-worshipping assistant. There is a type of film I call a “Golden Globe Picture.” A “Golden Globe Picture” refers to a mediocre film that is obviously awards-season bait, usually a half-baked script directed by a well known director and with a seasoned cast. If you must see this movie, do me a favor and wait until DVD. You’ll thank me later.

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