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Mike Nichols
Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Brian Markinson, Jud Tylor, Hilary Angelo, Cyia Batten
Writing Credits:
Aaron Sorkin, George Crile (book)

A stiff drink. A little mascara. A lot of nerve. Who said they couldn't bring down the Soviet empire?

Academy Award winners Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman star in this compelling and witty film from Oscar-winning director Mike Nichols and Primetime Emmy-winning writer Aaron Sorkin. Based on the outrageous true story, Charlie Wilson's War shows how one congressman who loved a good time, one Houston socialite who loved a good cause, and one renegade CIA agent who loved a good fight, conspired to bring about the largest covert operation in history.

Box Office:
$75 million.
Opening Weekend
$15.952 million on 2575 screens.
Domestic Gross
$66.636 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 102 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 4/22/2008

• “The Making of Charlie Wilson’s War” Featurette
• “Who Is Charlie Wilson?” Featurette
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Charlie Wilson's War (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 14, 2008)

In the fall of 2007, we got two movies with amazing credentials that failed to live up to expectations. Of the pair, Lions for Lambs bombed the worst. Back with the triumvirate of Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford – who also directed the flick - Lions made a miserable $14 million at the box office and received reviews that were mediocre at best.

Compared to Lions, Charlie Wilson’s War was a hit. That flick boasted superstars Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in lead roles, threw in Oscar-winning Philip Seymour Hoffman as well and featured legendary director Mike Nichols behind the camera. With all that, it got decent but not great reviews, took in $66 million and made virtually no waves at the Academy Awards; Hoffman got a Best Supporting Actor nomination and that was it. You’d think that the caliber of personnel alone would’ve guaranteed a little Oscar love, but that didn’t happen.

As a film, War becomes a sporadic success, and it certainly betters the strident propaganda of Lions, but it remains an artistic disappointment. Set initially in 1980, we meet Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson (Hanks). Known as “Good Time Charlie” for his partying ways, he doesn’t present much substance in the House, and most consider him to be an anonymous congressman most noted for all the sexy female assistants on his staff.

A news report about the war between Afghanistan and an invading Soviet Army piques his interest, though, and Charlie adopts US support for the Afghans as his cause celebre after his wealthy friend/lover/patron Joanne Herring (Roberts) urges him to take action. Charlie does his best to increase funding for the Afghan defense, a task aided by CIA operative Gust Avrokatos (Hoffman). We see how these efforts unfold and their effect in Afghanistan.

Some films live up to the adage about a whole that equals less than the sum of its parts, and I’d classify War that way. I don’t say that just because the end result fails to live up to all the hype that comes with so much talent attached to a film. No, War doesn’t seem as impressive as a flick backed by so many Oscar trophies, but that’s not the only way the whole falls short.

I think War fails to become a satisfying package because it manages to collate several good scenes but never quite integrates them into a scintillating total product. I can look at the flick and pinpoint many things I like about it, with Hoffman as Exhibit A. If he felt intimidated by all the talent around him, he sure didn’t show it. Hoffman truly steals the show whenever he appears onscreen. Loose, vivid and vibrant, his Gust becomes the only great performance here. When Hoffman appears, the film actually starts to live up to its billing.

On the other side, we find Roberts’ limp turn as Joanne. On the surface, Roberts feels wrong for this character. We sense that Joanne should be a much older woman than the 40-year-old Roberts, which was accurate; the real Herring was into her fifties during the story’s period. Why not cast someone of a more appropriate age?

For star and sex appeal, I suppose, but Roberts seems miscast here. It’s not just about her age, though. Roberts does her damnedest to play the Hot Babe. Almost every scene in which she appears includes dialogue about her desirability, and we even get a long shot of her in a bikini. Why? So Roberts can show us how good she looks after she had three kids. When Roberts appears on screen, the movie becomes a love letter to her and an attempt to prove to the audience that she’s still smokin’ as she turns 40.

In the middle comes Hanks. At no point does he harm the movie, but unlike Hoffman, he never elevates it either. When the film requires Hanks to do the earnest Jimmy Stewart side of the character, Hanks works just fine. He conveys Charlie’s beliefs well and aptly conveys the congressman’s desire to help the Afghans.

Unfortunately, Hanks does less well with Charlie’s wild side. He can’t pull of the rogue in the congressman, and that makes his performance less convincing. Hanks doesn’t feel stiff, but he simply lacks believability as a rascal.

The construction of the story also falters. During its first two acts – while Charlie connives to get support – it fares pretty well. The backdoor intrigue gives us a lot of interesting dealings to follow, but once the Afghans start to beat the Soviets, it sputters. The movie works very hard to show how America’s post-war failings led to our current predicament. While those threads may be correct, they feel forced here and they don’t naturally integrate to the rest of the flick.

As a piece of entertainment, Charlie Wilson’s War proves acceptable and frequently enjoyable. I can’t help but think it should’ve offered more, however. This is a good flick to pass the time but not one that delivers a great deal of substance.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus D+

Charlie Wilson’s War appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though most of the transfer seemed fine, a few problems made it less than satisfying at times.

Sharpness was erratic. Much of the movie looked fairly crisp and well-defined, but more than a few mild exceptions occurred. I saw edge haloes at times, and those tended to make the presentation a bit soft and tentative. I noticed no shimmering or jagged edges, and source flaws appeared absent.

War featured a generally natural palette. The film often went with a mild golden tone, though it didn’t come across as unnatural or stylized. Instead, it kept the tones subdued, a motif that fit the nature of the tale. Blacks tended to be a little muddy, while shadows were decent to good. Some interiors appeared a bit hazy, but the film usually provided perfectly acceptable delineation in low light shots. Ultimately, the image was watchable but suffered from its edge enhancement too much to merit a grade above a “B-”.

At least the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Breach proved more consistent. Of course, the flick didn’t offer a particularly lively soundfield much of the time, as the material remained low-key in keeping with the movie. Nonetheless, the audio opened up the material well. Music showed nice stereo imaging, and effects provided some good breadth and movement. A few scenes that showed the battle in Afghanistan easily worked the best, as they illustrated the sounds of war in an involving manner.

Audio quality was positive. Speech always came across as natural and concise, with no edginess or other problems. Music seemed rich and full, again within the movie’s subdued parameters. Effects followed suit and seemed both clear and accurate. At no point did the audio become dazzling, but it fit well with the movie.

Don’t expect many extras here. The Making of Charlie Wilson’s War goes for 17 minutes, nine seconds as it mixes movie clips, behind the scenes bits, and interviews. We hear from director Mike Nichols, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, producer/actor Tom Hanks, producer Gary Goetzman, the real Charlie Wilson and Joanne Herring, and actors Julia Roberts, Emily Blunt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. The show looks at the source book and the screenplay, Nichols’ involvement in the flick, thoughts about the real Wilson and the story, and the cast and the shoot.

The best parts of the featurette come from those that feature the real Wilson and Herring. It’s fun to see the people behind the characters and learn a little about the reality. Otherwise this becomes a fluffy piece of promotion, as it gives us very little in the way of production substance.

Who Is Charlie Wilson? lasts 12 minutes, 21 seconds and features Nichols, Hanks, Wilson, Herring, technical advisor Jere Van Dyk and CIA advisor Milt Bearden. As implied by the title, this show gives us a little more info about the man behind the film. We get some nice archival photos and footage in this short but interesting piece.

A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Atonement, Saturday Night Live: The Complete Third Season, Friday Night Lights: The Second Season and HD-DVD. (I guess they replicated this DVD before HD-DVD died.) No trailer for War appears here.

Taken on its own merits, Charlie Wilson’s War offers a reasonably entertaining piece of work. However, given all of the talent behind it, “reasonably entertaining” becomes exceedingly faint praise. The DVD offers erratic picture along with pretty good sound. It delivers an insubstantial set of supplements, unfortunately. In the end, this becomes a mediocre DVD for a moderately enjoyable flick.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6666 Stars Number of Votes: 9
2 3:
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