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July 10, 2007
“Charlie Wilson’s War”

Written by Aaron Sorkin
Based on the book by George Crile

“I know you think of yourself as a drunk and a fuck up but you're not. You have such greatness in you. And you're needed now. I don't care how many women you sleep with, that's what great men do, and by the way, pick up the phone and I'll show up anywhere you say, wearing anything you like, and I'll fuck you till you black out. You should believe everything you’ve heard about me.”


It’s a tricky thing, “reviewing” the screenplay of a film yet to be released theatrically. That is where I found myself with Aaron Sorkin’s “Charlie Wilson’s War,” an adaptation of the book by George Crile. Hell, we don't even have a trailer yet and many in the awards-watching community have begun pinning the film with that cursed “frontrunner” label. The film has arrived at this distinction due to a number of reasons, chief among them the sheer prestige of the picture. Mike Nichols. Tom Hanks. Julia Roberts. Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Plenty of reason for high expectations.

Oh, and let’s not forget hotshot scribe Aaron Sorkin, most famous for NBC’s “The West Wing.” Sorkin finds himself spinning away from the disappointment “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” cancelled by NBC after just one season. So I was more than a little intrigued as to what his first return to movies since “The American President” in 1995 would yield.

It is with great joy that I can report “Charlie Wilson’s War” as a knock-out. While I haven’t had the opportunity to peruse Crile’s book, it becomes apparent nonetheless that Sorkin’s fingerprints are all over the adaptation. Nowhere is this more evident than the dialogue.

As the lead-in quote might demonstrate, the writer finds plenty of room to have fun under the pressure of heavy and heady subject matter. In fact, this might be an endearing characteristic that will make “War” stand out amongst the year’s Oscar hopefuls. It’s hysterical. So much so that when the important information and politics bubbled ferociously to the surface, I found myself laughing while learning. It’s like the greatest class I never had in college. What other Oscar contender will feature a congressmen going to the Jihad with his personal belly dancer in order to help a deal go through?

Tom Hanks will star as Charlie Wilson, giving the actor what has to be his best role since Forrest Gump thirteen years ago. The script kicks off with the Texas Congressman in a pretty compromising situation involving a hot tub, cocaine, a wannabe TV-producer in search of money and a Playboy model. From here the yarn follows Wilson to his life in the capitol, where we watch – in ways much too entertaining to spoil here – Wilson plunging headlong into American aid and arms to Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion, with the help of President Zhiva of Palestine and a budget that would inflate from $5 million to $200 million in no time at all.

In the last few years, Hanks has certainly been experimenting a little more than we’re used to seeing from him. America’s favorite actor in the 90s has been delivering incredible and interesting performances in sub-par movies such as “The Terminal” and “The Ladykillers,” but it’s great to see him land a film and a role he can really sink his teeth into, one that actually merits his hard work. For the first time I can recall, we actually get a randy Hanks. One sequence involves Emily Blunt’s character – nothing beyond a cameo –undressing in Wilson’s apartment to show him “the second best view in all Washington.”

Nearly stealing the show is Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a hot-headed American CIA agent who gets tied up with Wilson in their mission to arm the Afghanis. It’s another great role for Hoffman and definitely one to watch come awards season. But the talk of “Charlie Wilson’s War” being the Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts show is far from the truth, as Roberts’s character, Joanne, the "sixth wealthiest woman in Houston," really only has around four scenes, nothing of real consequence – at least on the page. The role still seems tailor-made for the actress.

There is a sequence, maybe 60 pages into “Charlie Wilson’s War” that presents Wilson with the travesties he’ll soon fight to eradicate. Now, maybe I’m jaded by recent movies that just want me to cry so bad at the horrors of the world, and maybe it’s just Sorkin’s genius, but I love that there are no weeping hysterics from Wilson here. Watching, observation, that’s it. It affects him deeply, and it changes his life, but there’s no heartstring tugging. No unnecessary lingering.

And perhaps that’s the script’s greatest strength: although a government representative, Wilson is pretty flawed and even stupid at times. We root for him while associating with him, and as he almost single handedly starts changing the fortunes of all these poor souls, I felt the triumph and joy that he does and it resonated all the more clearly.

I’m hesitant to criticize the script because most of the criticisms I found are things that are easily remedied during filming (or even before filming starts). Towards the end of the second act things get a little repetitive, and while Sorkin tries his hardest to keep it interesting, we really just want to see how it’s going to wrap up. But the script’s final moment most definitely brings the story full circle with modern political climate.

At 145 pages, “Charlie Wilson's War” is a fast read, mostly due to Sorkin’s rapid fire dialogue. Director Mike Nichols will have to be at his best to make sure it doesn’t become verbal noise after a while, something Sorkin scripts have struggled with in the past. But who are we kidding? In the last few years Nichols has won everything but another Oscar, taking “Angels in America” to televised glory and Broadway’s “Spamalot” to Tony victory. He’s a director that seems to continuously be improving on his talents, and we’d all be fools to think he’d not be up to the challenge here. Regardless, this is a script with the potential to be a classic on celluloid.


You called "The Terminal" a subpar movie - goodbye credibility Brian.

I just can't be as interested in your review of a movie with political undertones if you've missed the wonderful layers in what I consider one of the best movies of 2004 (and much better than either American President or Few Good Men - and I'm saying this as someone who likes Sorkin). I loved the Terminal but that's just my opion of course. I just had to vent about that.

At the same time, with that kind of pedigree I have little doubt that this movie indeed will be great.

I missed the memo where difference of opinion equals a lack of credibility.

Settle down, there, Roman.

Come on, Chris... Of course I meant no disrespect. I was just expressing my own thoughts just like the reviewer did. Didn't mean to come off like that.

Great article, Brian. Thanks for sharing your review with us.

I'm relieved to hear that the script is a home run, because I have all the faith in the world in Nichols' ability to bring it strong to the big screen. And as you've stated, the acting talent's a no-brainer.

I'm a sucker for great screenwriting. So barring a poor job in the cutting room, it looks like we've got ourselves a genuine contender. It annoyed the Hell out of me that Dreamgirls got so much early hype last year. For some reason, this doesn't feel the same.

Looks like Sorkin is on a verge of big sucess in Hollywood.

"Studio 60" aside, having just signed a three movie deal with DreamWorks and having the possibility of Spielberg directing one these three, as well as the possible Oscar nod, I'd say he's doing pretty well.

Great first up review for In Contention Brian. Look forward to enjoying your erudition in the script reviews to come.

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