I thoroughly enjoyed Charlie Wilson's War last night (B+). It's a fluid biopic whose only truly introspective scenes are the first and the last--a framing tactic that crystallizes the monumental efforts of one man and his influence on a war fought largely in the shadows of covert operations.
The casting was superb. It's a real joy to watch Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts share the screen. They feed off of each other in this one, each of them delivering the sharp dialogue in a syrupy Texas drawl. Hanks' Wilson is pitch perfect--flawed and arrogant and observant all in one crazy salad. And Hanks can still deliver the goods. Watch him closely in the scene in which he pines after Roberts' Joanne Herring. His yearning is palpable...
Mike Nichols really ratchets up the pace after that first scene, and his use of fades and overlaps is pretty creative. The first batch of combat scenes are riveting (the others feel pedestrian after that first set--watch as the fleeing civilians are chopped down like so many stubborn weeds in the back yard) and Nichols does a nice job of orchestrating the timing in a number of complex scenes. I love Wilson's first encounter with Gus Avrakatos (Philip Seymour Hoffman). He's about to get indicted, and so he herds his staff in one door and the CIA stooge out of the other. Back and forth they go, and Nichols plays it to really strong effect.
And Hoffman. That man can seriously act. I love his cocksure turn as Avrakatos. He's a womanizing, boozing, scene-stealing delight throughout this film, and this time, it feels like he's playing a character. In many of his films, it just seems like it's Hoffman being Hoffman in a movie. Whiny. Petulant. Slighted. Neurotic. Here he gets to stretch it out, and with that moustache and that sweet 'do, he owns many of the scenes in which he appears.
This one is awesome. I think it fizzles a bit in the conclusion, coming to an end all too quickly. That's the only thing separating this one from that top echelon of last year's films...
Man, I can't wait to see Prince Caspian. Manana, folks.