Tom Hanks brings out the big guns, literally, as a Texan congressman who covertly funds Afghan resistance against the invading USSR in the true story of Charlie Wilson's War. His indignation at the plight of refugees, brutally displaced by the Soviets in the 80s, is matched only by his lust for women and booze. War has rarely been this much fun, but director Mike Nichols is careful to offset the mischief with a poignant reminder of the days that lay ahead.
When the big Washington power players turn a blind eye to the Soviet invasion, Republican socialite Joanne Herring gives Wilson the means to bolster the defences of the Mujahideen. Initially that involves a little "undercover" work on her part (done with subtlety and elegance by Julia Roberts) but Wilson continues this secret crusade after witnessing the devastation on the ground. He's also spurred along by CIA agent Gust Avrakotos who, although outwardly coarse, spots all the angles in this game of military chess while the higher-ups dither.
"A COUP FOR HOFFMAN"
The role is a coup for Philip Seymour Hoffman. He steals every scene he's in, telling it how it is with a deadpan delivery and a thinly veiled contempt for his superiors. With Hanks to bounce off - playing it as smooth as single malt whiskey - Nichols generates the energy of a classic screwball comedy. That's epitomised in their first meeting, a wickedly funny scene that has Avrakotos ducking in and out of the room as Wilson tries to handle a breaking sex scandal. Occasionally though, the gags do feel a touch forced. Wilson's conference with the Pakistani president and his aides feels a little too much like a skit from The Three Stooges. And despite his playboy lifestyle, Wilson does come across as a little too saintly - any sense of vanity and good old Texan gung-hoism is toned down. Those flaws aside, Charlie Wilson's War boasts an impressive arsenal of wit, sophistication and scathing political commentary.
Charlie Wilson's War is out in the UK on 11th January 2008.