Charlie Wilson's War

What is it about watching really smart people doing smart things while we in the audience--with benefit of 20/20 hindsight--know they are out- smarting themselves? Are we smug? Could we do better? I think I will want to own the DVD just for the pleasure of watching all those smart people doing all those smart things...smirk...

In the meantime, this movie has a LOT to recommend it. Great stars, starting with hard-drinking, womanizing, mildly corrupt Congressman Charlie Wilson himself, played by Tom Hanks ("The Da Vinci Code" and "The Terminal"), playing off the great, great Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Savages" and "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead") cast as an angry operative who spent three years learning Finnish only to be assigned elsewhere. Hoffman actually has most of the funny lines. Those two guys did a spectacularly looooong single take, walking side by side, verbally sparring, strategizing and generally conducting Business As Usual in the approved Washington DC manner. Purely from an acting point of view, I haven't seen a single take that long in years! This was how they made movies in the old days: rehearse an entire scene and then shoot it from beginning to end. Performances these days are cobbled together in the editing room, but these two war horses showed the neophytes how it is done! I was dazzled!

The logic of what Charlie Wilson was trying to achieve was beyond reproach...arm the Afghanis so they could fight the Russians for us without providing arms that could be traceable to the United States. They cobbled together an unholy alliance among erstwhile Middle Eastern foes, by using a combination of coercion, bribery and smooth talking. In the approved arc of government funding, they took an initial $5M budget to $500M and watched as Afghani foot soldiers, finally armed with adequate (Russian) weaponry, brought down Russian aircraft and destroyed Russian tanks.

Julia Roberts ("Notting Hill" and "Erin Brockovich") is the glamorous (but not attractive) Texas socialite who initiates the scheme. She seems to be having a ball with her character's over-the-top clothes and jewelry, her big Texas hair, and her twang; spouting Baptist rhetoric and seeing her original meddling brought to official fruition. She and Hanks take turns fondling each other's tush as they exit their scenes.

Amy Adams ("Enchanted" and "Talladega Nights") is Congressman Wilson's able assistant and I was excited to see Emily Blunt ("The Devil Wears Prada" and "Dan in Real Life") as a constituent's daughter, but her character went nowhere.

A word to the wise, this movie has implied drug use and its share of nudity in the hot tub at the very beginning...up to and including Mr. H himself (but he'd better not quit his day job...).

This script is witty and full of dazzling minutiae (Un-clumping mascara with a safety pin? The names and calibers of various guns? Did Attorney General Rudy Giuliani ever nail Wilson?). 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I had to admit to myself that had I been in the same situation, I would probably have done exactly the same thing and would have felt really good about it...right up to the time when I DIDN'T.

The Zen koan is excellent.
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For the preview:
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