The fact that the movie’s cast includes Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts doesn’t hurt either. The two of them typically seek out quality projects. But more than those two, I was attracted to the movie by the fact that Philip Seymour Hoffman is in it, plus the fact that the screenplay is by Aaron Sorkin, whose writing credits include the TV series The West Wing, as well as the play and screenplay for A Few Good Men. He is a writer of exceptional skill, intelligence, and wit.
Even with all of these expectations, the movie does not disappoint. If you’re thinking that it’s some dreary political screed, filled with stone-faced political machinations and pulse-pounding chase scenes, think again. Oh, there’s plenty of politics, to be sure. Pretty serious stuff too, chronicling the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the U.S. response to it in the 1980s. But it’s all handled with a deft, light touch. This movie is, at its core, enormously entertaining. Its balance between drama and comedy is just about perfect. Philip Seymour Hoffman is just liable to pick up another Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a sardonic CIA agent. He has most of the movie’s best lines and steals just about every scene he’s in – no small feat considering the on-screen company he keeps.
Kudos as well to Tom Hanks in the title role. In fact, to be more precise, kudos for the casting of Tom Hanks. Charlie Wilson is a hard-drinking, drug-abusing, sleazy kind of guy, albeit one with his heart in the right place. The very first time we see him, he is sitting in a hot tub with several naked bimbos. But we, the movie-goers, know and like Tom Hanks – he has built up a certain credit account with us; a trust fund, one might say. So we give ourselves a chance to like Charlie, and we do.
Complaints? One small one – it’s about Julia Roberts. Nothing against her work, but her role isn’t big enough to justify the movie poster parity with Tom Hanks you see depicted above. In fact, I have to suspect that if her role were being played by a lesser name, a lot more of it would have ended up on the cutting room floor. But that’s a quibble. For me, this movie revolves around four people. Off-screen, it’s director Nichols and writer Sorkin. On-screen, it’s Hanks’ and Hoffman’s film. I don’t know whether it’s the sort of film that the Academy will consider for a lot of awards, but it just might be one of the year’s best.