A hot tub, strippers, and cocaine – a surprising start to a film about arms dealings with Afghanistan.
But this is where we first meet US congressman Charlie Wilson, pondering the result of Soviet attacks in this semi-biographic film based on the 2004 novel by George Crile.
Tom Hanks steps up to take on the role of Texan Democratic congressional representative, Charlie Wilson. The alcoholic womaniser makes it his mission to aid freedom fighters in 1980s Soviet occupied Afghanistan, through a covert CIA operation. His interest in the problem borders on the obsessive, and he ends up spending billions of dollars on high tech weapons.
It’s Texan socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) who, influenced by a Pakistani official, kick-starts Wilson’s awareness of the plight of the Afghans through a lavish fundraising party.
Wilson’s hedonistic lifestyle, his addiction to sex and alcohol – provides a stark contrast to the lives of the villagers he meets on his trip to Afghanistan. He’s genuinely moved by what he sees, although not enough so to provide medical aid, or indeed change his way of living.
It’s hard to become emotionally involved in a film which doesn’t quite know which angle to take. At one point we see what looks like original footage of Soviet troops attacking Afghanistan and the next minute computer generated villages are filling the screen. Grainy images of helicopters followed by the abuse of modern technology with a Bond-style explosion create a patchwork effect, resulting in a loss of credibility.
As per usual with “America saves the world” films, Charlie Wilson’s War is sometimes grating in its patriotism, and you might need to stifle a groan when Wilson remembers the time he “fell in love” with America. It might work across the pond, but it won’t go down too well over here.
Hanks, as usual, doesn’t disappoint, although he seems reluctant to embrace the lecherous qualities of the Congressman. It’s hard to believe, for example, that he would come out and say of his three female assistants “you can teach them to type, but you cant teach then to grow tits”.
On the whole, however, Wilson becomes a character we love to hate, as he simultaneously deals with his official duties and allegations of cocaine abuse by a so-called friend.
Julia Roberts, on the other hand, does nothing to bring credibility to a character who is already under-developed.
As if there wasn’t enough sex in the film already, we have to endure an unnecessary bikini scene only slightly less cringeworthy than the episode in which Roberts separates her eyelashes with a safety pin. A lengthy make-up application scene leaves us feeling rather confused about why girl-about-town Joanne Herring is so concerned about the goings on in Afghanistan in the first place.
The third cog in the anti-Soviet wheel is rogue CIA agent Gust Avrakotos, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who is no stranger to the more seedy character. Hoffman, with his witty one-liners and Zen Master analogy, turns out to be the saving grace of an otherwise somewhat dull biographic picture.