Review: “War” one of the year's best

Politics get done, undone, and not done by a process very different than what we imagine. That’s the unambiguous message of “Charlie Wilson’s War,” delivered by a brilliantly couched folly that camouflages the grave nature of its end game, enabling us to laugh at what should have us in shock.

In this dramatization of George Criles’s bestselling account of the same name, a liberal playboy congressman and his sometimes lover, a wealthy Christian anti-communist, join forces with a rogue CIA agent to undermine the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

The odd and unlikely bedfellows turn their respective appetites for cocaine, sex, and violent confrontations with their fellow workers into a force so potent that it literally changes the balance of power in the world. So complex and covert were their actions, it’s unlikely the complete story will ever be known.

Their success in building a covert budget and procuring arms, the latter requiring the sale of lethal weapons by Israeli arms dealers to their mortal enemies, makes a mockery of “political science”.

At the head of the trio is the savvy, indifferent Texas congressman, Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks). His love for whisky finds competition only in his appreciation for shapely young women, the likes of which make up his office staff.

Hank’s performance, his best in quite some time and his most mature ever, brings delicate shape and nuanceto a deceptively wily character, capable of playing poker with the devil.

Wilson receives few demands from his loyal constituency, with the exception of one–Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), whose requests vary from the very personal to the extremely political.

The very wealthy Joanne, driven by deep religious conviction and contempt for Marxist philosophies, wields great power both locally and abroad.

Virtually unknown to the American public, her contacts and influence, in their own way, exceed that of the congressman. Unlike the standard bevy of females in Wilson’s stable, she sets the tone, in and out of the sack.

Joanne, leveraging her multi-faceted contributions to the congressman, who sits on the appropriations committee, “suggests” that he take a closer look at the situation in Afghanistan, where she feels that rebels defending the country against the invading USSR could use a bit more funding.

Making a visit to the refugee camps, Wilson witnesses the horrific human casualties inflicted by the Soviets. The suffering he sees, especially among the children, makes the situation personal, taking his fire, heretofore raging several inches lower and moving it up to his belly.

Enter Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) a veteran CIA agent—a talented guy, with a lunch pail attitude.He doesn’t suffer fools, of which he finds many among his Ivy League spawned colleagues. His track record and skills allow him the license to remind everyone up and down the ladder to know how he feels about their incompetence.

Avrakotos delivers his epithet-laced diatribes with an eloquence rarely associated with his particular choice of vocabulary. His economic invectives manage to display wit, knowledge, and disgust, informing his audience and insulting their intelligence at the same time.

Hoffman, given the discretionary capital often afforded to supporting actors, spends it with consummate skill.

All of this finds form and dialogue through the script of Aaron Sorkin, whose takes on Washington formed the bedrock of the Emmy Award winning “West Wing.”

His screenplay for “Charlie Wilson,” free of the constraints of the FCC and the decorum of network television, stretches out like a thoroughbred freed from the stable.

Already leaking are various rumblings from the respective partisan wings concerning the political balance of the material, all of which misses the point of a magnificent piece of work, emanating from a collection of Hollywood’s most brilliant talent.

The public will recognize the fine caliber of this strong contender for best picture of the year, putting to rest the notion that any offering having the slightest connection to the war in Iraq will suffer at the box office

Grade: A

Lester Gray reviews movies for Examiner.com. Read all of Examiner's movie critics.

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