Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Run guns Forrest...

Charlie Wilson’s War starts with a wink at the camera by Aaron Sorkin. In a bathtub, surrounded by naked strippers, Congressman Charlie Wilson is pitched a prospective tv show described as “like Dallas, but set in DC;” and Sorkin likes the joke so much that he mentions it a few more times, and Mike Nichols indulges him. The film’s a seemingly pleasant affair, with unsettling, if not, at times, sinister undertones when one considers the current state of the world, and I liked it. It might have a lot to do with my being a great admirer of Sorkin’s The West Wing.

What I found most interesting was the way most of Sorkin’s signature rapid-fire dialogue was delivered by the more than capable actors, and framed and cut by Nichols, and his editors, John Bloom and Antonia van Drimmelen. Most of Sorkin’s director collaborators, including his business partner Thomas Schlamme, usually frame his dialogue in a two-shot as a walk-and-talk. In The West Wing (as well as in Sports Night and Studio 60), the better actors rise to the challenge and create a verbal tennis match with their repartee. In this film, however, Nichols prefers to use one-shots, and likes to cut back and forth between the characters, who never rise to Sorkin's bait, and, instead, deliver their lines in their own time and pace. It’s an apt choice for the film, and only distracting in an academic sort of way for the most devoted Sorkin aficionado, such as yours truly. Still, I can’t help but wonder whether some of the scenes, especially the first meeting of Tom Hanks’s Wilson and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s CIA agent Avrakatos couldn’t have been framed as a two-shot with a static camera, letting the dialogue tell the story without its being distracted by cuts every ten seconds or so.

Having said that, the film is entertaining. I especially enjoyed Hoffman’s acerbic secret-agent man, and Amy Adams and her gorgeous eyes, always gazing at Wilson, her boss, with a kind of longing mixed with pathos. The story itself doesn’t try to make too much of the connection between the current world events, and western involvement in the Soviets’ debacle in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, it’s impossible not to reflect on today’s world, especially near the end of the film when Ned Beatty’s evangelist congressman starts shouting “God is great” in front of a crowd of Afghanis, his support predicated on the fact that the enemy is the godless Soviet so any ally belonging to any religion is good enough. I was reminded of a scene from the last season of The Sopranos when Hesh’s daughter says that she supports the neo-con evangelists because they are great friends of Israel. “Just you wait,” replies Hesh, dryly.

Note: A lot has been made by the film's advertising campaign of how hugely instrumental Charlie Wilson was in ending the Cold War, to which my only reply would be "calm your bones, love."


Anonymous said...

The possibility of a tv show was in the book the movie is based on, it's not a Sorkin creation.