Charlie Wilson's War
Directed by Mike Nichols

Written by Aaron Sorkin

Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman


Charlie Wilson's War

Since when has war been a hoot? Maybe not since "Wag the Dog," which wasn't even about a real war. Well, "Charlie Wilson's War" is about a real war, in fact it's a real story about real people, and it's a hoot. Directed by Mike Nichols with a wonderful flair for the comedy in the story, and acted against type by at least two of the three principals - Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman - (we'll have to say that Julia Roberts isn't quite able to keep up with her men here, but no matter), this is probably the first film since Nichols's own "Catch-22," to have some fun with war.

You probably never heard about this, but it's true: A congressman from Texas, Charlie Wilson (Hanks) who happens to be on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which handles back-channel appropriations for covert operations by the CIA, and who also loves his Scotch, his cocaine and his strippers, in no particular order, finds an old girlfriend, Joanne Herring, a right-wing nut about Communism who happens to be the honorary Consul in Houston to the Pakistan government - I should say she finds him - and persuades him to increase the CIA's current appropriation of $1 million, first to $5 million and then to $1 billion, in order to get weapons to the mujahedeen who are fighting the Russians in Afghanistan. Quite a job, but you will love how it's done in Washington.

And it couldn't have been done without the best performance of all, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos, a square wheel in the round world of the CIA. We meet him as he's smashing the glass door of his superior - with reason, let me say. I happily nominate him for best supporting actor of the year.

Before we know it, and this is Nichols (and his writer Aaron Sorkin, of the West Wing) at his best, Charlie Wilson has met with Zia Ul-Haq, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, found a way to get Israeli weapons made in Russia to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, and soon the Russian helicopters and fighters are dropping like flies; and then, of course, they leave Afghanistan and the cold war is over.

That's the plot, but not the wit, which depends on Hanks playing against type with a sly wink and a drink in his hand. It runs from a door-closing and opening farce in Wilson's office to his gorgeous office staff (all women, whom he calls 'jailbait'), to asking for a drink in the office of the president of Pakistan ("We do not have liquor here;" "I bet a lot of people make that mistake;" "No.")

In the interests of historic accuracy, let me point out that the film does acknowledge that those brave mujahedeen did turn into the Taliban; make of it what you will. But do see the film.