Release Date: April 22, 2008
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Ned Beatty
Based on the Book by George Crile
Written by: Aaron Sorkin
Directed by: Mike Nichols
Charlie Wilson’s War is one of a practical triptych of 2007 films covering the current military/political situation regarding the United States and the Middle East. (For the record, the other two are Lions for Lambs and In the Valley of Elah.) Charlie Wilson’s War is the only one of the three to go down the road of both drama and comedy, and there are times in the film where it succeeds in what is a potentially slippery gymnastics act. The story, adapted from George Crile’s nonfiction book on the subject, covers the involvement of Texas congressman Charlie Wilson in the Soviet War in Afghanistan. We begin with the womanizing, hard-partying Washington congressman (played wryly by Tom Hanks) and follow him through his discovery of the plight of the Afghanis and his efforts to fight the Soviets, as aided and prodded by a socialite (Julia Roberts) and a bitter CIA agent (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in an Oscar-nominated performance). It’s an odd mix of a movie. Some scenes are classic Aaron Sorkin verbal ballets, especially the first meeting between Hanks and Hoffman. Others are weighted down by the body counts and casualties being shown on both sides of the conflict. It’s certainly an admirable attempt to tell this story from Wilson’s point of view, but it never quite manages to figure out what kind of movie it is. It doesn’t really work as a comedy with the human suffering on display, but there’s too much humor and satire in the film to see it as a drama. As such, it’s neither fish nor fowl. Julia Roberts’ fans may find some moments hilarious, but she doesn’t have much to do here. Fans of Hanks will likely have a good time here, as will fans of Hoffman. And fans of Aaron Sorkin will enjoy the sporadic displays of his scripting talent. But the overall package is a bit weighted down and a bit overcooked.
VIDEO QUALITY: 3 ½/5 ½
Charlie Wilson’s War is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer that actually shows a higher bitrate than usual for standard definition releases. (There are many points where the rate is higher than 8mbps.) Accordingly, there is a rich array of colors and fleshtones on display, and some fairly deep blacks in the night scenes. The movie takes the viewer all the way from a dark Vegas Jacuzzi club to a hot desert refugee camp in Pakistan, and shows a wide variety of lighting and atmospheric effects along the way. This is a very fine standard definition transfer.
AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5
Charlie Wilson’s War is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English, French and Spanish that mostly lives in the front channels as this is primarily a film about witty exchanges of dialogue. There’s a little use of the surround channels for music and some atmospherics (particularly the occasional helicopter), and a couple of appearances for the subwoofer (again, for the occasional helicopter), but this is primarily a film about the spoken word. This is a perfectly serviceable mix, but the film requires little of it, other than to firmly place it in the front speakers.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 2/5
Charlie Wilson’s War contains very little by way of extras – just two featurettes that show us a bit about the real Charlie Wilson and provide a little insight into the making of the film.
The Making of Charlie Wilson’s War - (17:11, Anamorphic) - This featurette includes interviews with all the main players in the film, along with Aaron Sorkin and Mike Nichols, and a few appearances by the real Charlie Wilson to round things out. The interviews are woven into the usual mix of film footage and EPK footage from the set. Not much really gets said about the making of the film beyond the usual mutual compliments, but there is a bit of material included about and with the real Charlie Wilson.
Who is Charlie Wilson - (12:23, Anamorphic) – A second featurette is included, which uses some of the same interview footage seen in the first one. This one focuses squarely on the real Charlie Wilson, with some material lifted from a 60 Minutes expose on his work in Afghanistan (with one credited author being George Crile). We see a little more about the real people upon whom the film was based, but there isn’t enough time here to do more than scratch the surface.
Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French for the film itself and for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference. When the first disc is initially started, the viewer is presented with an optional series of non-anamorphic previews including Atonement, Saturday Night Live: Season 3, the original non-anamorphic ad for HD-DVD. and Friday Night Lights: Season 2.
IN THE END...
Charlie Wilson’s War is a decent film that attempts to straddle the line between satire and heavy drama, with mixed results. In its best moments, it gives us some wonderful Aaron Sorkin dialogue and warm performances by Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Unfortunately, those moments don’t rule the day here, and there is a heaviness over the film that it never quite shoulders. Tom Hanks fans will enjoy this, as will fans of Hoffman, but anyone else is best advised to rent this one before purchasing it.
April 19, 2007.