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Charlie Wilsonís War (Mike Nichols, 2007)

 

Mike Nicholsí Charlie Wilsonís War manages to be at once utterly irresponsible and mildly entertaining. Given that, and its ample starpower, itís no surprise that itís managed to break the box office curse that has afflicted many recent films dealing with the Mideast conflict. Taking a deliberately oversimplified and condensed spin through 1980s covert ops in Afghanistan, the film gleefully satirizes the American governmentís furtive double-dealings and international incompetency. Director Nichols clearly relishes behind the scenes hanky-panky and power trips, even as he clucks his tongue at the players, pointing out with false solemnity that they were paving the road to the 9/11 attacks. The directorís experience directing the 1988 sitcom Working Girl has definitely influenced his current filmís worldview. The same snarky attitudes toward chauvinism and the illicit perks of the powerful that powered that movie are dredged up again for modern consumption. The end result now seems ghastly and glib, especially given our postwar context, regardless of whether or not it accurately reflects the morals of the time in which the film is set.

 

The shifting tones of Charlie Wilsonís War never seem to reconcile Nicholsí twin interests in period verisimilitude and modern-day pandering. The film might be audaciously arguing that weíre foolish to consider yesterdayís Cold War hero todayís terrorist-enabling pariah, but it might simply be confused. Itís difficult to discern any consistent attitude toward any of the three leads, giving the impression that Nichols and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin simply threw their hands up in the air rather than engage with the moral repercussions of the story they were telling. Oddly, everyone seems at once the subject of ridicule and acclaim (what can the viewer possibly make of the moment when Julia Roberts is described as ďthe sexiest woman everĒ?). The effect is the negation of any point to the enterprise. What remains, then, is a glamorous stage for its cast to ham it up upon (Philip Seymour Hoffman does so especially well). Quasi-witty banter is incessantly exchanged, flying with such fervor that it seems to be actively dissuading reflection. The sheer mindlessness of it all seems sufficient enough for a while, but eventually the moral vacuum at the center of the film becomes too great to ignore, and the very qualities that make Charlie Wilsonís War a lark start to become detestable.

 

46

Jeremy Heilman

01-02-08