I saw this film advertised, immediately thought 'Tom Hanks? Nah ...', and let it slip through the cinema releases without seeing it. It was certainly an error of judgement because Charlie Wilson's War is a great movie.
The plot is based on the true story of Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), a coke-snorting, hard drinkin', womanising Texas senator who teams up with CIA operative Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and sixth-wealthiest- woman-in-Texas Joanne Herring (played beautifully by Julia Roberts). They subsequently engineer the largest covert operation in US history, supplying freedom fighters with the weaponry they need to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
'Charlie Wilson's War' is a mix of charismatic charactors, cynical humour and drama, with some fine acting by Hanks and Hoffman and a wider chemistry evident across the entire cast; CWW is the type of film you watch and just know the actors are relishing their roles and having a great time. It's funny and cerebral, while also showing us the murky side of how the world really works behind the scenes. It's an entertaining and accomplished piece of film making, but not without its problems.
Director Mike Nichols seems comfortable sitting in his 'Catch-22' war-comedy roots, and never really tackles head on the issues the film raises. In particular, the ending (where we, the audience, can retrospectively look back at the historical events and know the direction it goes) seems tacked on, as if to temper the somewhat jingoistic slant the film has for much of its length.
The film also falls into the Sorkin-esque trap where, although the dialogue is great, it's sputtered out at a Kalashnikov rate ... the old US tact of conveying the intelligence of characters by making them speak incredibly quickly. In parts, as with the West Wing, you'll have to rewind to catch what they said and when you do you'll find a reference to US politics that most non-US citizens won't quite understand.
Generally though, an excellent film that is bound to surprise you if you haven't seen it. Not one for the kids or the instant gratification brigade ... but a few movies like this are always a good thing to break up the summer blockblusters.