Charlie Wilson's War

Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Ned Beatty
Extras: Featurettes

With a cast like Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman under the direction of Mike Nichols, "Charlie Wilson's War" had to be a good film – or so you would think. It was for that reason that I decided to give the movie a check-up the other night but in all honesty, I was more than just slightly underwhelmed. The DVD packaging has a quote from film critic Roger Ebert proclaiming it as "Wickedly funny!" but it makes me wonder if Ebert and I saw the same film. I mean, it's not even a comedy. I get the irreverence of the movie but to call it "funny" is quite an exaggeration.

Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is a congressman during the 80s, who has a blast in his position. I mean, after all, what else could you ask for? Money, drinks, sex and drugs, and all at the US taxpayer's expense. Making the best of every day in office, Wilson juggles – and wastes – millions of government dollars at a whim, a spur of the moment.

One day, rich and powerful socialite and concubine Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) directs his attention to Russia's invasion in Afghanistan and he simply cannot understand why in the world the US does not put a proper stop to this war. Teaming up with CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) he takes a closer look at the situation, makes a personal visit to the area and decides that it is up to him to make a difference. Setting up a covert-operation to make sure the Cold War doesn't escalate into a real war, Wilson tries to find a way to provide the Afghan people with highly efficient weapons so that they can oppose the Russian annexion and annihilation of their people. Step by step he creates an undercover network that takes weapons obtained from the Russians to hand them to their opponents. But weapons cost money – a lot of money – and so Wilson also has to weave a web across Washington that allows him to siphon of over $500 million dollars of government money to fund his private humanitarian enterprise.

Based on a true story, "Charlie Wilson's War" is a blade that cuts both ways. While on the one hand it is great to see that Wilson's intervention has saved the Afghan people, it can, I think, by no means justify the crooked means by which it was achieved. The problem here is as much a problem in Wilson as a man with his character flaws but also it shows many of the things that are just wrong with the way our government operates, giving politicians too much power and hardly ever making them accountable for their actions. These are supposed to be politicians elected by the people working for the people when in fact the majority of them have not the slightest clue what the people actually want or need because the last time they have perhaps lived a "regular" life was in their childhood 50-some odd years ago. While the country incurs bigger and bigger deficits every year, I find it painful to watch a story as this where hundreds of millions of dollars are drained out of the country's budget without the people's consent.

The much bigger problem with "Charlie Wilson's War" lies in its script, however. I found the film trundling along without real highlights. There was not a single moment in the film where you could say anything suspenseful happened, or anything really funny, or anything really dramatic. The film just runs along without creating excitement whatsoever, telling its story in a rather blunt way. It has a few entertaining moments but for the most part it is just a bunch of very unlikeable people yakking away. I do not believe that I am alone thinking that there could have been a much more exciting story in this material than what we actually get to see.

Universal is bringing the movie to DVD in a wonderfully clean transfer that is free of defects or blemishes. There are a few seconds of archival stock footage from the Afghan war in the film, which is noticeably grainy and slightly out of focus. I am not sure why the filmmakers decided to add these shots as I didn't feel they really added authenticity or credibility to the film and because they could have easily been recreated. The picture had good black levels that render shadows deep and solid, while the colors in the transfer are bright and vibrant. In short the film looks every bit as good as you'd hope for.

Presented as a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital track the audio on the DVD is also in good shape, though by nature the movie is not making overly aggressive use of the surround channels. As I mentioned before, the film is quite dialogue heavy and the only surround effects you get are ambient effects and a handful of scenes "in the field."

As extras universal has created a Making-of featurette but like so many of these it almost belies its titles. There is not much information about the making of the movie to be found here as it consists mostly about a few talking head interviews of the film's stars promoting the movie.

"Who Is Charlie Wilson?" is another featurette found on the release, trying to shed some light on the real man, featuring also a series of standard promo interview snippets.

I was expecting a great film and I was sorely disappointed. I found "Charlie Wilson's War" bland and unexciting. I managed to watch through its entirety – which accounts for something – but I found myself thinking a number of times that this is not really a good movie. Clearly, if it hadn't been for Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman, I would probably have turned this movie off after 45 minutes or so.