Thursday, March 27, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

I walked out of Charlie Wilson's War feeling fully entertained. It had flaws, but also strokes of genius. I quickly pegged it as a 4 stars out of 5 film. But something kept bugging me about CWW. The more I thought about it, the less comfortable I felt with its glibness.

Aaron Sorkin, also the engine behind The West Wing, wrote a smart, sexy script. It's full of political intrigue, back door dealings, and power plays settled more by wit than brute strength. We get the thrill ride of imagining a world where the history of the Cold War was being written by a drunken, womanizing Texan. And the film coaxes better than average performances from a host of better than average actors (except Philip Seymour Hoffman who I will not damn with such faint praise; the man is outstanding.) Overall, there's a lot of fun to be had with this recipe.

This film suffers from an agonizing fatal flaw however. It does concede the point that America screwed up by not helping the Afghanis rebuild after their successful war against the Soviets... and even tries to tack on a touching ending where we see an increasingly red-eyed Charlie trying to convince political allies to spend a few million on building schools for the survivors in Afghanistan. But this is crap. Not because it isn't true... it IS true that 9/11 could have been avoided with an ounce of prevention in parts of the world that we exploit. And it's probably even true that Charlie Wilson advocated for those programs. It's crap because the film just spent two hours showing us how sexy and exciting warmongering can be. It just gave you an adrenaline ride about how deft political maneuvers lead to shooting down Russian assault helicopters... all while watching a rippling American flag in the background and feeling secure in the knowledge that the Russians were the evil empire.

This sort of tactic reminds me of Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven"... an epic warfare film that tries to make the point that war is bad. This feels hypocritical to me... don't try to tell me war is bad after titillating me with two hours of exciting battle footage. Similarly, Mr. Sorkin, don't try to tell me we should have a kinder, gentler foreign policy after showing me how exciting it is to engage the gears of war. You're a liar Mr. Sorkin, and I will destroy your movie by taking back one star. You reached for meaning without believing in that meaning yourself. Now your film can rot with all of Tom Hank's other films: In three star oblivion.

Still worth a rental. :)

1 comment:

Yojimbo_5 said...

I was pissed off half-way through the movie.

But I don't think you can blame Aaron Sorkin for the footage of the helicopters being taken down--it did happen, after all, and I suppose they could have had folks running into rooms saying "We just shot down five helicopters this week" (which, actually, is what they did). I think the blame should go to Mike Nichols (who should know better), the director. You can't blame the writer for reporting the case, but you can blame the director for making the acts look like fun, or worse, in the case of the helicopter attack footage on an Afghani village (all CGI, by the way, so deliberate choices were made, as opposed to the news-footage used later), an example of the video game mentality where lives are cleanly erased in a puff of dirt.

The film was a huge disappointment because it felt like everyone was in a conspiracy to canonize this guy and his acts, and the only reason we should feel bad is "it came back to bite us"...which the film doesn't even have the guts to say. I think they compromised too much because the principals are still alive (that slatternly Repub lobbyist even promotes it on her web-site!!) and the makers didn't want to get sued. More's the pity.

I found Hanks' performance dissatisfying here, but to dismiss all of his resume as "3 stars" is a bit extreme. After all, "Turner and Hooch" is only "1 star."