Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> Charlie Wilson's War (2007) >>

With its star-studded cast, Charlie Wilson’s War gained much attention during its time in movie theaters all over the country. It wide-reaching release, all-star cast, famous director and writer, and controversial content caught the eye of movie buffs and regular viewers alike. While most of the published reviews are favorable, several well-known critics express criticisms of the film. Many believe the film is too short to delve into issues appropriately. One reviewer asserts that the film “skims where you want it to skewer,” and some feel the writing and direction glosses over the tougher parts of the film’s plot. However, nearly all the reviewers believe that Charlie Wilson’s War is entertaining, thought-provoking, and worth a watch.

Ansen, David. "Charlie Wilson's War." Newsweek 17 December 2007: 64.
Ansen describes Charlie Wilson's War as "screwball comedy" that mostly hits the mark but, at times, is somewhat incoherent. While Ansen applauds the witty screenplay, he questions the things the movie puts forward as givens, such as Joanne's power as an international figure, and wonders if the movie is perhaps too short to be best understood. Ansen also argues that Hanks and Roberts deliver little sexual chemistry, while Hanks and Hoffman make the perfect comedic duo. Like other reviewers, Ansen questions the end quote of the film: "These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. Then we fucked up the endgame." Ansen seems to suggest that the film should have explored this concept more and contends that filmmakers appear too timid to fully address the message they put forward in the end scenes.
Bernardinelli, James. "Charlie Wilson's War." Reelviews. 2007.
Bernardinelli unabashedly praises Charlie Wilson's War and delivers little and insignificant criticism. He refers to the movie as an "unrelieved delight, [a film that does] not collapse under the weight of high expectations." Bernardinelli, like others, acknowledges the progression of events from Soviet withdrawal in Afghanistan to the emergence of the Taliban but simply refers to the history as "fascinating" and does not suggest the movie dig deeper. The critic congratulates the blend of politics and humor, as he argues the film perfectly masters the political nature of the subject matter without becoming too "dry" for audiences. While Bernardinelli slams Roberts' acting in the film, he has only admiration for the other headliners. Bernardinelli maintains that the film is perfection from "start to finish."
Charity, Tom. Rev. of Charlie Wilson's War, dir. Mike Nichols. CNN 21 December 2007.
Charity's review special for CNN paints a somewhat rotten picture of the motion picture. "Mike Nichols' undercover history of the liberation of Afghanistan, ‘Charlie Wilson's War,' is so witty and light on its feet, it's a pity it pulls its punches." The film is criticized for the fact that he believes nobody involved in the making or marketing of the film knew how to feel about Wilson or what he did. Charity proposes that the tone is all over the place, the casting he says in his own way is awkward to imagine, and in the end he seems to fault the film for its provocation in the viewers minds as to how the actions on the screen may have lead to our modern day Taliban troubles.
Corliss, Richard. "For Charlie Wilson, War is Swell." Time 21 December 2007.,8599,1697661,00.html
Corliss exclaims that the film is "a picture about war and politics that manages to be both rational and inspirational. It is also the year's funniest smart movie." Corliss goes on to recap Charlie's character throughout the film -- a Congressman who moves millions of dollars through the halls of the Capitol while also freewheeling in hot tubs with strippers. Corliss refers to the hero as a "larger than life, conniving, lascivious, all right do-gooder, who you wouldn't mind sharing a drink or a hot tub with." Corliss offers virtually no criticism of the film and even applauds its less-than-average length.
Ebert, Roger. "Charlie Wilson's War." Chicago Sun Times 21 December 2007.
Ebert delivers a favorable review of the film with little criticism. He says the "sharp-edged political comedy" is well cast, even though many criticize the casting of Hanks as Charlie Wilson. Ebert insists that Hanks "brings something unique to the role," and that Hanks and Hoffman are "well-matched." Ebert does acknowledge that the "freedom fighters" in the film become our enemies in later years, but, unlike other critics, he merely notes this as "unfortunate" and does not criticize the film for not delving further.
Hunter, Stephen. "Charlie Wilson Firing on all Cylinders." Washington Post 21 December 2007.
Hunter delivers a favorable review. However, while he praises the comedic work of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the film, he feels that Tom Hanks is miscast and finds it hard to believe why the female characters are "so attracted to Forrest Gump." His complaints about Hanks' casting are the only criticisms Hunter offers regarding the film. He applauds Roberts' performance (or at least her bikini-clad body) and admires the skill of director Mike Nichols. He also exclaims "Gosh, does this movie have it all or what! It's also short! What's not to love?"
LaSalle, Mick. "'Charlie Wilson' and Texas socialite make love -- and war." San Francisco Chronicle 21 December 2007.
LaSalle points out both the good and the bad in his review. He praises both the writing and the acting. Of Hanks' performance, LaSalle explains, "The role of Charlie Wilson demands something different from Hanks, and he responds with among the best character work of his career." LaSalle goes on to applaud Hoffman and Sorkin's ability to make scenes pop and make audiences feel. Despite his love for how the movie "flows like water downhill," LaSalle criticizes the direction and characterizations. The critic notes that the film lacks "grandeur in the filmmaking" and "crucial interplay of personalities" among the characters. Nevertheless, LaSalle recommends the film to moviegoers.
Nadel, Alan. "Charlie Wilson's War." Journal of American History 95 (2008): 286-88.
Nadel, who claims that Wilson actually fights several wars in the film, explains that Wilson must overcome personal battles, battles with the CIA and Congress, and, of course, battles with the Soviets. Nadel praises the "terse" script and appears to enjoy its brevity (98 minutes). Nadel also argues that the film "makes the global struggle far more nationalistic than ideological," as various characters constantly refer to "killing Russians." While Nadel applauds the film's "verve, wit, compassion, and reasonable accuracy," he insists that the film glosses over the complexity of global relations and domestic policy.
Podhoretz, John. "Charlie Wilson's War." Weekly Standard 13 (2008): 38-40.
Podhoretz asserts that the film "inflates" the importance of Charlie Wilson as a character but adds that this inflation is forgivable given that it is, indeed, "a movie." The reviewer praises the direction and writing, claiming that the movie has a late 1960's feeling missing in other films reminiscent of the era. Comparing Amy Adams to Kim Novak, Podhoretz admires the focus on women missing in recent decades. However, Podhoretz criticizes the film because it "gets one thing entirely wrong." Podhoretz argues that the film contains too much hindsight, and that no one at the time actually believed the rebels could defeat the Soviets. He explains that the mission was supported not because anyone felt that a victory would lead to the collapse of the empire but simply because the Soviets needed to be countered wherever they could be.
Puig, Claudia. Rev. of Charlie Wilson's War, dir. Mike Nichols. USA Today 21 December 2007.
"Charlie Wilson's War is an eye-opening and sassy tale of political will making for unlikely bedfellows."
Scott, A.O. "Good Time Charlie's Foreign Affairs." New York Times 21 December 2007.
Scott argues that the film is more of a "hoot" than the typical movie about violence and war in Afghanistan. He says, "Fun is this movie's unlikely and persuasive motto." Unlike one other reviewer, Scott claims that Roberts handles the role of Joanne Herring "as golden as an Oscar statue." Like the writer of the Time review, Scott finds nothing wrong with the film's length and applauds the way the film deals with its ending message. Scott offers no criticism of the film and insists that the movie is a must-see.
Sklar, Robert. "Charlie Wilson's War." Cineaste 33 (2008): 48-51.
Sklar describes director Mike Nichols and writer Aaron Sorkin as "masters of political satire, the kind that has a little fun with the clichés of recent American history but ultimately offers comfort and congratulation rather than seriously challenge them." His opinion of both Nichols and Sorkin serves as the basis for his review, as Sklar points out that Charlie Wilson's War is a "blowback" film that illustrates the consequences of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Sklar insists that viewers who are not "alert" will miss the idea that the waning U.S. interest in Afghanistan at the conclusion of the film contributes to the situation we see in the Middle East today. As such, Sklar criticizes the film for not pushing this theme harder. Sklar also criticizes the characterization in the film. He says, "Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts supply their star power and little else to their lead roles, which in any case are scripted without depth and with no more than brittle, surface subtlety." Overall, Sklar contends that the film is not worth viewing, as it shies away from asking tough questions and taking a real stance. He claims the film attempts to end history in 1989 and does not follow the coming events in Afghanistan. This is perhaps the most unfavorable review of the film, and is important for those who study the movie. Sklar invites readers to question the depth and meaning, or lack thereof, in the film.
Travers, Peter. "Charlie Wilson's War." Rolling Stone 13 December 2007.
Travers delivers a mostly favorable review of Charlie Wilson's War. He says Hanks lends the film his "considerable charm and sly wit," but Hoffman is "rude, crude, and hilarious; the film's sparking live wire." Travers argues that the film is the "most dynamic of the war films that have been choking and dying at the multiplex," but he does deliver criticism about the film's length and end scenes. Travers asserts that the film "skims when you want it to skewer." He agrees with other critics who feel that more time should have been given to portray the end result in Afghanistan that, unfortunately, bred many of the issues we see coming to a head in the current political climate.
Wilonsky, Robert. "Moolah for Mullahs." Village Voice 11 December 2007.
Wilonsky does little to take a side regarding Charlie Wilson's War, but his summary is useful for anyone looking for the cliff notes of the film. Wilonsky explains the relationships between Hanks, Roberts, and Hoffman and describes the backgrounds of Sorkin and Nichols. Wilonsky puts the making of the film into perspective and demonstrates why each actor and the writer and director are perfect for their respective roles.