Aaron Sorkin has always played fast-and-loose with truth in the name of good drama. Typically, this is a strength of his: The Social Network and Steve Jobs are both improved by ignoring fidelity in favor of modern tech-mythology.
In Charlie Wilson’s War, this becomes a limitation: You can feel Sorkin resisting the urge to tell a really juicy story but bound by realities of a complex geopolitical situation that’s still playing out today. The final title card basically admits the “messy hero” angle on protagonist Charlie Wilson is, at best, reductive; at worst, a pretty big misfire. Perhaps Sorkin knew he was in over his head and so tread lightly, or maybe he felt pressure to tell a neutered version (Wikipedia cites rumors that Hanks shot down some darker material). But something caused him to pull punches; the story is just too tame.
The movie clings to watchability thanks to some fun performances. It’s no surprise that Phillip Seymour Hoffman is magnetic as a maverick, no-BS agent. Hanks feels slightly miscast as a playboy; sleaze is not his wheelhouse, but he still gives dimension and charisma to the character. Julia Roberts is fine, and Amy Adams does her best to bring some depth to a criminally small and flat role. Both Adams and Roberts are subject to a few out-of-nowhere “male gaze” shots where Mike Nichols tries to play up the trashy fun to little effect.
By half-assedly straddling the line between romp and political drama, Sorkin and Nichols end up with a weak version of both, a vaguely funny-ish story that only crackles in a handful of moments. The reliance on newsreel and stock footage feels imported in from a totally different movie, and the tone from scene-to-scene is a roulette spin. Given all the talent involved and that it’s Nichols’ last picture, it’s a major disappointment.
- Review Project: Tom Hanks Retrospective
Not Very Good (3/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.