Friday, January 25, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War, or On Hot War

Robert McNamara summed it up best: “Cold war? Hell, it was a hot war!” If you want a visceral illustration of the disparities explored in Charlie Wilson’s War, you could do a lot worse than that gulf between cold – functional handshakes, photo-op smiles – and hot.

Because the hot in Charlie Wilson’s War is a killing heat. Bodies are torn apart, war machines downed in operatic fervour. Wacked out on sunstroke, nobody can seem to tell their loving and their vengeful Gods apart anymore. The action sequences, intercuts of grainy-as-guts archival and pristine staged footage, meld together, the realities on the ground conflating with the media feed until it’s all kinda lost in one deadly haze.

Walking straight down the middle of all these lines is our guy, the titular Mr. Wilson. This is where Aaron Sorkin’s careful blend of researched grounding and theatrical playfulness blends with Hanks’ unflagging affability to chuck Charlie into the realms of minor classic.

Hanks and Hoffman’s characters anchor the picture’s fluctuating perspectives – here, there, then, now, us, them – with a kind of playful Zen mastery of their own discrepancies. It’s not that Wilson is split between lecherous gadabout and Christian patriot, or Gust between hair-trigger insubordinate and dutiful spook: it’s that they somehow manage to leverage their own character flaws into serving their higher calling. If this sounds tricky on paper, just wait’ll you see it happening a half-dozen times per scene.

The most widely-viewed account of America’s covert incursion into the Afghan crisis was – ahem – Rambo III. That picture closes with a touchingly anachronistic title card: “This film is dedicated to the gallant people of Afghanistan”. Charlie Wilson’s War also ends with a title card: “We fucked it up in the endgame”.

Which brings you right back to “Strange” McNamara: ain’t hindsight a bitch?

[originally appeared on Flicks]

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