'Charlie': Fast-Talking Fun

Tom Hanks, left, and Philip Seymour Hoffman play off each other well in
Tom Hanks, left, and Philip Seymour Hoffman play off each other well in "Charlie Wilson's War." (By Francois Duhamel)

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Both Mr. Smith and Mr. Wilson went to Washington, full of high ideals, committed to progressivism and the little guy. But Mr. Smith became an icon of idealism so pure that it had to be movie-phony. Mr. Wilson dated beautiful babes, hung out in Vegas, loved his daily glasses of amber beverage on the rocks and destroyed the Soviet empire.

Thus "Charlie Wilson's War," Mike Nichols's laff-a-minute chronicle of the congressman's crusade to ram funding through the House Appropriations Committee to supply arms to the Afghan mujaheddin in the early 1980s. He succeeded, and the Russian war birds began falling from the skies, crashing, burning and all but ending the Soviet occupation.

This movie probably gets the Washington process better than any since Otto Preminger's underrated "Advise & Consent" in 1962. It's not about men of virtue doing the impossible, but men of flaws doing the doable, but just barely. You don't want to look too carefully at the process, which is haphazard, greased by alcohol and a barter system of favors and flattery, big moneybags in the home state, and a lot of gumption and git-r-done ingenuity.

Charlie, a multi-term Democrat from rural Texas who was a low-ranking grad of the Naval Academy, is played by Tom Hanks, at his unchallenged but affable best. This may be a first: I would gauge Hanks as actually much less attractive than Wilson, a notorious rou¿ and ladies' man. That leaves the viewer with the occasional curiosity as to why she -- this could be any of several shes -- seems so attracted to Forrest Gump.

But the best thing about the film is the speed at which Nichols, from Aaron Sorkin's snarky script, moves the thing along and keeps the cracks wise. In fact, the best relationship in the film isn't sexually driven, it's banter-driven: the weird chemistry between Charlie and CIA field agent Gust Avrakotos, an oddball Greek American with shrewd street wiles. Avrakotos is played in high brio by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is terrific, as he almost always is. Gosh, does this movie have it all or what? Smart dialogue, Julia Roberts in a bikini and looking grrrrrr-eattttt, and Russian helicopters going boom! It's also short! What's not to love?

-- Stephen Hunter

Charlie Wilson's War R, 96 minutes Contains strong language, sexual content and nudity. Area theaters. Charlie Wilson's War R, 96 minutes Contains strong language, sexual content and nudity. Area theaters.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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