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Going to War with Charlie Wilson

Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is exactly the sort of guy you'd want to be your best friend, and exactly the sort of guy you wouldn't want to be your congressman. Early in Charlie Wilson's War, director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin show us how Wilson does business: Clowning around with naked strippers in a Vegas hot tub, he keeps one eye on the coke and another on 60 Minutes.

Wilson—who possesses a charming Texas drawl, an undemanding constituency, and a taste for booze—spends most of his time schmoozing, or flirting with his hot assistants. (His hiring policy: "You can teach 'em how to type, but you can't teach 'em how to grow tits.") Until, that is, socialite/activist Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) corners Wilson into actually doing something. It's the Cold War, and Herring is interested in the Afghanis' war against their Russian occupiers. Some sweet-talk and a quick visit to Afghanistan later, and Wilson's calling in favors, ensuring that America covertly funds the Afghani rebels. Wilson's chief ally is crass, gruff CIA officer Gust Avrakotos (played by a caustically hilarious Philip Seymour Hoffman); with Avrakotos' know-how and Wilson's connections, the rebels see their funding explode from $5 million to $1 billion.

Hollywood loves nothing more than a "____ with a heart of gold" story, and the phrase "corrupt congressman" fits that empty spot pretty well. It fits even better when the film's based on a true story, and when said congressman is played by the effortlessly likeable Hanks. Kind of predictably and kind of lamely, though, Charlie Wilson's War sticks to the Hollywood playbook: Sure, there's a montage of war casualties and a somber coda, but Charlie Wilson's War is largely content to show charismatic characters doing good and entertaining things. Like the film's titular character, Sorkin's script and Nichols' direction are funny, and personable, and are grand company for a few hours—but beneath the surface, there's not a lot going on.

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