Monday, 21 April 2014

"Charlie Wilson's War" on BLU RAY – A Review Of The 2007 Mike Nichols Film


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"…Three Years Learning Finnish!" – Charlie Wilson's War on BLU RAY

It's 6 April 1980 and Charles Nesbitt Wilson is pruning in the bubbling water of a Las Vegas Hotel Jacuzzi with some naked strippers, cocaine and glasses of champagne (standard procedure for an American Congressmen at the time). But something else other than wet areolas catches Charlie's eagle eye. Up on the mounted television set behind the bar is an unshaven Dan Rather of CBS Evening News reporting from the deserts of Afghanistan. A local woman who speaks English tells a turbaned Dan that "America is asleep..." and that if the Russians invade her country - the Gulf is next - and after that - the USA itself. Charlie (Tom Hanks) politely declines an offer to make a tasteful TV Movie with Playboy of the Month and her naked agent for $29,000 and bids them all farewell...

Back at his office in Texas (which oddly enough is peopled with three large-chested women sporting buttons in their blouses that can't seem to be closed) - Charlie makes enquiries with his assistant Bonnie (Amy McAdams) into the covert ops budget for the dirt-country in the Middle East with no real political friends (America included). He doesn't like what he hears and as a Congressman for the House of Representatives - he determines to change all that nonsense by doubling its budget from five million dollars to ten. And so it begins...

Along the way Charlie meets with the 6th wealthiest woman in Texas - the wildly patriotic and determined sexpot Joanne Herring (a stunning Julia Roberts eating up a proper role) and a Greek CIA operative Gust Avrakotos (another genius portrayal from the greatly missed Philip Seymour Hoffman) who has anger issues with his bosses and hasn't been killed across 4 continents in 24 years by people who know how to (dialogue above). So far so funny...

But then it all changes when Charlie visits Afghanistan itself - and sees up close and personal what the Russian war machine is doing to defenceless Muslims. Men are being stacked in human piles and then run over by tanks as their wives are made to watch - children are dismembered with toy mines - and starving people rush grain trucks ripping open sacks in desperation. And as he walks up a hill and looks back at a Biblical scene of refugee tents with huge expanses of humanity being hammered by bullyboys - Charlie sheds a tear. And then a steely look enters his angry gaze...

What makes "Charlie Wilson's War" so good is a trio of things - the alarming and often ridiculous nature of this true modern-war story - a wickedly funny and yet touching Aaron Sorkin script - and a huge posse of Grade-A actors capable of making you chuckle one moment then shed a tear the next. The three principal leads are exceptional - especially Hanks and Hoffman - but there's also quality support from Emily Blunt, Om Puri, John Slattery, Ned Beatty, Ken Stott and Peter Gerety in small but significant roles.

The characters they portray may at times seem utterly ridiculous, meddlesome and even arrogant - but their convictions and above all their love of democracy and freedom knows no bounds. And anything that threatens that (i.e.: murderous Russians slaughtering easy pickings like peasants with pitchforks and old rifles) - is going to get short shift - and high-tech weaponry if that doesn't work.

The problem with all this 'movie entertainment' is that it clouds an obvious and stinging question - why did the CIA arm the Afghans? To give them their country back  - or out of pure self-interest - they get to defeat the Soviets using another country and another people to do it? The film doesn't shirk this thorn to its credit - offering up the plausible response that it was probably a bit of both. And it also points out that in the mid Nineties the American Government lost interest once the war was won and shamefully left with the goal achieved but the 'people' stranded - not investing - not rebuilding - and thereby giving rise to massive Islamic hated towards the West - which of course has had global consequences ever since.

The BLU RAY picture quality is gorgeous throughout - a major production - and filmed in Full Aspect (1.85:1)  - you get that punch of quality across the whole screen and in every shot. Audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Spanish Surround 5.1. Subtitles are in English SDH, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Korean, Latin American Spanish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish, Thai, Turkish and Traditional Mandarin.

Directed by Mike Nichols and adapted from George Crile's book by Aaron Sorkin - "Charlie Wilson's War" seems slight at first - but then bites into your heart - and leaves you mightily impressed.

Did Texas Mascara and a Congressman with etched leather boots (elected to the Ethics Committee when he was clearly a dubious choice for the job) actually bring the Soviet Empire to its knees and defeat Communism? Check out this superb movie and find out...

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