Film review: Charlie Wilson’s War **

2008-03-10 00:00

HOLLYWOOD likes its wars bloody and uncomplicated. Charlie Wilson’s War is an ideological jumble that tries to wisecrack its way through a moral minefield.

The Charlie Wilson of the title is based on a real U.S. Congressman who, with a prior political history of not getting anything done, galvanises America to fight a proxy war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s by arming the mujahideen in Afghanistan.

Tom Hanks is cast in the role of the hero, so it doesn’t take much to work out whose side you should be on even if he happens to be a boozy, womanising politician with no discernible integrity.

Julia Roberts is Joanne Herring, a right-wing, red-baiting, Bible-punching Cruella of the cocktail circuit who styles herself as fund-raiser-in-chief for Charlie against the Communist menace. To further her cause she panders to military dictators like Pakistan’s murderous President Zia ul-Haq.

Thus, a woman not without flaws, but in the person of Julia how can they be anything other than endearing little quirks?

The dilemma facing the filmmakers was how to tell the story of a larger-than-life figure, who was charming and funny, who improbably got his country clandestinely to arm a civilian population who in time would join the jihad against America.

Well, they chose to ignore the elephant in the room and so the brooding irony of political blowback remains unacknowledged and unexamined.

Lest, presumably, it sours the comedy. Then they tried to patch a bleeding heart on to a gunmetal sleeve in the hope that America’s poisonous foreign policies come across as noble in intention, if not effect.

Their attempt at critical commentary extends no further than portraying the CIA as a national joke, which is to deny and trivialise the broad range of factors that determine America’s self-serving interventionism in global politics.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the cynical spook who’s supposed to be the antidote to the gung-ho warmongering, but even here villainy wears an endearing, albeit ugly, face.

The result of all this flip-flopping is a confusing mess that doesn’t know whether to be a comedy, a patriotic hurrah or a critique of warfare.


Yves Vanderhaeghen

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