Charlie Wilson’s War

November 6, 2007

What better (or, well, worse) way to commemorate the end of the first day of the writers’ strike than with a post on an upcoming movie? In, you know, the desperate hope of more new movies (and, of course, other entertainment – hang in there, The Daily Show!) to come, someday.

Plus, I had to write something about this buzzworthy Oscar contender before the phrases “Oscar contender” and “Oscar buzz(worthy)” became seriously annoying, and everywhere. Sadly, like those omnipresent Christmas decorations I already see going up in stores (did the new Daylight Saving Time skip us right past Thanksgiving?), it seems to be happening already.

What’s so Oscar contentious about Charlie Wilson’s War? Well, here’s my comprehensive (on a very, very small scale) explanation:


CIA. Congress. Back door politics. Covert operations in Afghanistan. But pre-9/11. Basically, think way back (20 some years!) to the days of the Cold War.

According to Coming Soon, the film is:

…the true story of how a playboy congressman, a renegade CIA agent and a beautiful Houston socialite joined forces to lead the largest and most successful covert operation in history. Their efforts contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, with consequences that reverberate throughout the world today.

Popular book

The film is based on the well-received, New York Times bestselling book Charlie Wilson’s War by the late George Crile, a CBS reporter and 60 minutes producer. And then there’s its subtitle – “The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times” – which reeeeally goes all out with that length thing, and, hey, long titles are on the cutting edge of Hollywood blockbusters these days. Okay, to be honest, there’s basically just one other film with a long title, but that’s still something. And it starred Brad Pitt! (see: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford)

Big screenwriter

The movie was written by Aaron Sorkin, the undisputed master of mile-a-minute, admittedly often incomprehensible dialogue (don’t tell me you didn’t want to rewind The West Wing at least a couple of times to desperately try and catch that crucial two second snippet of conversation) by very well-credentialed talent. Yes, he wrote the not-very-political Sports Night (one of my personal favorites – I own every disc of the, uh, two seasons) and perhaps he hasn’t had the best of luck recently (the late departed Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), but he’s also the mastermind behind The West Wing, The American President, and yes, A Few Good Men. The man knows his behind the scenes politics.

Big director

A four-time Oscar nominee and one-time winner (for The Graduate), Mike Nichols is certainly not a director to sneeze at. With Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf, Silkwood, Working Girl, The Birdcage, Primary Colors, Closer, and on TV, Angels in America and Wit, under his belt, Nichols has got both breadth and major credibility. Working Girl and Angels in America? The Birdcage and Closer? Not a director who’s afraid of trying out (and, of course, succeeding at) different genres.


Clearly, Mike Nichols and Aaron Sorkin have quite the rolodex (I wouldn’t mind seeing it, really…), or someone does, because the film has got a seriously heavy cast. The playboy congressman and the beautiful Houston socialite? Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts respectively. That’s right, the Gold Standards of likable, and bankable, Stars (capitalization intended) in the same movie. You can just see the “America’s sweetheart meets America’s everyman in this season’s top Oscar contender!” headlines now. (you know I had to insert that Oscar phrase back in there somewhere)

Throw in the great Philip Seymour Hoffman as the renegade CIA agent, as well as appearances by soon-to-be-crowned princess Amy Adams, Devil Wears Prada favorite Emily Blunt, Superman sidekick (remember Otis?) and Oscar winner Ned Beatty, and cult TV sweetheart Shiri Appleby (any Roswell fans?), and you’ve got one helluva talent pool.

And this is different from Lions for Lambs… how?

They’re both about Afghanistan and the politics of war, not to mention congressmen. They’ve both got major directors and a stratospherically A-list cast. And obviously, they’re both aiming for Oscar. The difference? Well, several things.

The screenwriters: up-and-coming newbie (and new blood is always a good thing!), Matthew Michael Carnahan, versus TV’s critical darling veteran, Sorkin. Essentially, we’re talking about the writer of A Few Good Men and The West Wing versus the writer of The Kingdom and Smokin’ Aces. The winner? You decide. And you can! Once both movies are out anyway.

And really, they’re just very different films. I mean, in the end, you know any trailer that asks “Do you want to win the war on terror? Yes or no?” has got some seriously high-falutin’ gravitas on hand, a definite “point to make.” And certainly nothing against gravitas (or Robert Redford, I swear!), but Charlie Wilson’s War simply has a bit of a different take on a war film, going the route of important, dramatic content mixed with, believe it or not, knowing, unpretentious humor. It almost seems to be a comedy, or at the very least a couple of entertaining (yet still educational!) hours at the theater. Lions for Lambs via Forrest Gump. Sort of.

In any case, perhaps War‘s take on the genre will help it avoid the deadly political war film curse. Not to jinx it before it’s even been released or anything, of course. (knock on wood!)

Here’s the trailer: