The first time the audience sees Texas congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) in the early 1980s, he seems far from a model politician. Surrounded by strippers, a Playboy Playmate, and cocaine, the naked congressman lies in a hot tub at a party. Despite the distractions, the TV news catches Charlie's attention as Dan Rather reports from a war-torn Afghanistan. As Soviets invade the country, the Afghans lack the money and technology to defend themselves. Enter Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), a wealthy Texan who champions the cause of Afghanistan and, by extension in the Cold War, America. Together with CIA Agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Charlie begins a secret war where he must unite Israel, Pakistan, Egypt, and America to defeat the Soviets.
Just as director Mike Nichols brought a sense of fun to what should have been dour proceedings in films such as THE GRADUATE and CLOSER, this comedy about the largest covert war to date never feels like a history lesson. Writer Aaron Sorkin's dialogue is as sharp as fans have come to expect, and it's delivered with impressive verve from the film's trio of Oscar winners. Hoffman is famous for transforming into various characters, and he's remarkable, but it's Hanks's turn that's the most surprising. Outwardly, Charlie could resemble many of Hanks's previous roles, but the actor adds layers to the character and changes without the aid of makeup or prosthetics. Based on a true story as written by George Crile, the script for CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR displays all the trademark wit of Sorkin's writing. As in Sorkin's other work, notably THE WEST WING and THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT, the characters in CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR display a fierce love of their country. The screenwriter's own politics often rise to the surface, but this smart comedy never feels preachy.