Charlie Wilson's War is based on the real-life events surrounding the clandestine effort lead by Texas representative Charlie Wilson to defeat the Russians in the 1980's war in Afghanistan.
The opening scene depicts a high-flying congressman, cavorting with cocaine-snorting strippers and playmates and all but devoid of a moral compass. A blond Julia Roberts delivers a performance that is convincing if not a stretch for her; a wealthy matriarch constituent who charges Charlie Wilson with the mission of visiting Pakistan to witness firsthand the plight of refugees of communist aggression there. On his junket, we are to believe that he is moved to such a degree that he takes up a personal crusade to secure covert funding for weapons the Afghan rebels require to turn back the Russians.
In an early highlight we meet Gust Avrakotos, a powerful CIA utility player brilliantly played by
Philip Seymour Hoffman whose course and disdainful dialog with his superior officer pulls you in early, setting the stage for inevitable enlistment by Charlie Wilson, but also raising expectations that the film doesn't quite deliver on.
Amy Adams, recently of Enchanted fame, smartly plays Wilson's accomplished Gal Friday, a role that won't help nor hurt her promising career.
All in all, this is an entertaining film but alas, not even the master of characters, Tom Hanks can compensate for underdeveloped writing and direction that misses too many opportunities to engage the viewer emotionally. It fails on the fundamentals in that it never quite builds enough tension subsequently to be resolved. I give it a pass here as that's probably how the events unfolded.
And in fact, if it weren't for the film's offering of substantial historical and political context, Charlie Wilson's War would have little payload to deliver.