, 05 Feb 2008
It is quite difficult to say what this film hopes to achieve. Is it to entertain? To inform? To criticise American policy, or endorse it? It is not hard to maintain, however, that whatever the aims were in the thoughts of director Mike Nichols, Charlie Wilson's War is a resounding failure.
The film - like Nichols' previous feature, Closer - lacks any meaningful character development. Before the release of the film, Tom Hanks told his prospective audience not to see his character as a morally upright man. No, he said, Wilson is supposed to an ignorant womaniser and drug abuser: a man (as he is told by the President of Pakistan) with 'substantial character flaws'. One wonders how an audience can possibly hope to reach such a conclusion when they are handed the trademark Hanks 'awkward nice guy' taken straight from his roles in Forrest Gump or Castaway. When we are ever shown what is supposedly WIlson's dark side, his dalliances are merely there for light relief.
Yet calling it relief is too generous, however. Phillip Seymour Hoffman - proven to be an outstanding actor in recent years - is grossly misused, playing the role of the amusingly angry short guy. There is no purpose for him other than as a (poor) comedic foil to the whimpering Hanks, and one feels that with a character who is as explosively introduced as Gust Avrokotos, Hoffman could have gone to town had the script allowed for it. Instead, we are shown a stale 'romance' between Hanks and Roberts that is about as exciting as a night in watching Countdown, despite Roberts competence in a demanding role that requires her to smile occasionally and even deliver the odd line or two.
The whole feel of the film is wrong. Nichols clearly attempts to make some sort of commentary on the failure of American foreign policy to aid the post-war reconstruction of foreign films, yet seems petrified to do so. Instead we have a feature that entirely tows the middle ground: it appeals to conservatives who get to see the Commies get their comeuppance, while liberals can snicker at the meekly implied arrogance of the American involvement. One feels that if the film wants to make a point about something, it should go ahead and make it, rather than leaving us to infer the entire meaning of the film from Hanks blank expression in the closing sequence and a quote from Wilson himself (which, funnily enough, says more in 3 lines than the enitre screenplay does in 97 minutes).
No heart, a meagre script, poor performances from the leads, and a lack of engagement with any of the real issues at hand. An embarrassment: thank God for Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
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