Mr Wilson Goes to Washington

Charlie Wilson's War Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Emily Blunt, Ken Stott, Ned Beatty; Dir: Mike Nichols; Cert: 15; 1hr 37mFor many years Tom Hanks has been regarded as a modern-day equivalent of James Stewart - Hollywood's Mr Everyman - honest dependable and upright….

Andrew Clarke

Charlie Wilson's War Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Emily Blunt, Ken Stott, Ned Beatty; Dir: Mike Nichols; Cert: 15; 1hr 37m

For many years Tom Hanks has been regarded as a modern-day equivalent of James Stewart - Hollywood's Mr Everyman - honest dependable and upright….until now. In Charlie Wilson's War he plays a drug-snorting, whiskey drinking, back-bench congressman whose only claim to fame is the fact that he has managed to be re-elected five times without doing anything. It's Mr Smith Goes To Washington in reverse.

In the opening scenes of the film we see him sharing a hot tub with three topless Playboy bunnies being persuaded to invest in a new soap opera for a blonde bimbo which is pitched as being like Dallas only set in Washington.


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Hanks' canny congressman is not being tempted but he does help himself to a line of cocaine and a stiff drink. This is a different character for Tom Hanks and he rises to the occasion delivering his best performance since Philadelphia.

As you would expect with a film from Mike Nichols and a script by West Wing/ A Few Good Men author Aaron Sorkin, it's fast, sharp and displays some devastatingly black humour.

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The best line in the film is delivered by Hanks after a meeting with the president of Pakistan. “You know you have hit rock bottom when you're told you have character flaws by a man who hanged his predecessor after a military coup.”

The film is reputedly based on a true story and follows Charlie Wilson's crusade to get the Soviet army kicked out of Afghanistan during the early 1980s. He is motivated to do something about the Russian invasion after one of his campaign contributors, the ultra right-wing religious zealot Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) flies him off to a refugee camp in Pakistan for Afghans who had fled the fighting.

Hank's Charlie Wilson is horrified to discover that the US has been secretly supplying the rebels with rifles that were little better than the ones used in World War I to shoot down armoured helicopter gun-ships. He sets out on a campaign to double the CIA's covert arms budget for the Afghan rebels.

Back home he makes contact with disaffected CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (Hoffman) and between them they engineer a scheme where US money for arms is matched by Israel, Egypt and Pakistan - in a daring cross-religious scheme. With state-of-the-art weapons suddenly in the hands of the Afghan rebels the tide of the battle starts to turn against the Russians.

This is a sharp, wonderfully observant film with a bitter sting in the tale. It's given extra zing by some terrific performances, not only by Hanks, but by Philip Seymour Hoffman as the bitter CIA agent and the wonderful Amy Adams as Wilson's resourceful personal assistant who never seems fazed by anything that Wilson does.

For example his office is entirely staffed by leggy young women under the age of 30 and it comes as no surprise when Wilson also finds himself under investigation by the Senate investigation committee for immoral conduct which leads to a brilliant sequence where Hoffman has to keep having to leave Wilson's office while he gives details of his defence to his staff of willing young helpers.

Emily Wilson delivers another terrific supporting performance as the young daughter of one of Wilson's supporters who the congressman shamelessly sleeps with.

Charlie Wilson's War is constructed and played like a screwball comedy but has a richer, darker more dramatic feel to it. It tells a serious tale but in a darkly humorous way. It's great to see Tom Hanks being stretched as an actor and that veteran director Mike Nichols still has that assured, lighter-than-air touch.

This deserves to be a real Oscar contender - a genuine must see movie.

*****

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