Movies that are tremendously well-made, written, and yet somehow still don't work are rare. Charlie Wilson's War, written by Aaron Sorkin of "West Wing" and "Studio 60" fame and directed by Mike Nichols, is full of dialogue that's terrific, particularly Phillip Seymour Hoffman's many one-liners. Tom Hanks gives a good performance as usual in a role that's somewhat out of his comfort zone: his dilettante congressman is much less sympathetic than Hanks nearly always plays, if still charming. And Julia Roberts... well, any time she tries to do a southern accent, it's pretty hilarious.
Charlie Wilson tells a fascinating and more or less true story about how a nonranking member of some minor House committees managed to expand U.S. funding of the 1980's guerrilla war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union from five million dollars to one billion. As a classic political this-is-how-the-hot dogs-get-made film it's hard to find fault with. But the film's point is so massively muddled that it's hard to finish without feeling woozy rather than entertained. At the close, Sorkin's script suggests very strongly that Wilson' work was just -- and that it was the fault of further covert government organizations to spend more money in Afghanistan that led to 9/11. That's an incredibly weird position for an avowedly liberal writer and director to be taking.
It's also completely ideologically incoherent. How can you be against the illegal wars in Vietnam and Iraq and for the illegal war in Afghanistan? Charlie Wilson's War suggests that it's OK for unelected bureaucrats to wage war, so long as they have Hoffman's mordant wit. The whole thing made me uncomfortable -- how could these filmmakers so consciously make a movie that contradicts itself? Did they honestly think that no one was going to notice?
I could go on into an additional paragraph about the Democratic National Convention here, but I'm not feeling quite that partisan yet.