A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this Tom Hanks/Julia Roberts movie is decidedly adult. For starters, it deals with complex issues connected to political wrangling and Middle Eastern power struggles. And then there's the booze, gunfire, and sexual content (including some nudity), strong language (be ready for lots of "f--k"s)-- it's all here and then some. That said, the movie is also smart, with a main character who's infinitely more interesting than many other people in movies. While it's not perfect, it's still a worthy watch, especially for older teens and adults interested in the political process.
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What's the story?
Pay attention to the first 10 minutes of CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR. It tells you all you need to know about the titular Democratic Texan congressman (Tom Hanks) who, unbeknownst to many, apparently helped engineer the fall of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by championing ways to covertly fund the Afghani rebels' operation in the early '80s. As the movie opens, Wilson is sitting in a hot tub drinking booze, surrounded by a bevy of naked, busty women (and some ogling men). But he's transfixed not by the bacchanalia around him, but rather by the news unspooling on television: The Russians have invaded Afghanistan. It's a memorable beginning for a fairly entertaining movie based on the book by George Crile, as well as a succinct capsule of who Wilson is: a smart, irreverent, and surprising politico with a penchant for drink and dames. That point is driven home later when right-wing socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts -- great acting, bad accent), who likes to put her money where her politics is, champions the Afghan cause and persuades Wilson to get involved after a quick romp.
Is it any good?
Charlie Wilson is a bold role that demands a bold actor, and Hanks admirably rises to the occasion, aided by Aaron Sorkin's intelligent script and Mike Nichols' breezy direction. Paired with Philip Seymour Hoffman -- who plays Gust Avrakos, the CIA operative who guides Wilson through his cause -- he's giving it all he's got (and effortlessly, too).
But hold the box-office receipts: While Charlie Wilson's War manages to make intricate Capitol Hill and international relations maneuverings fun, it's a little too wonky to fully connect with mainstream audiences. As a one-hour West Wing episode, it would have been a smash. But as a feature film, it falls short, explicating too much and too often and wrapping up a complex issue too neatly in the end. Still, in today's political landscape, there's no denying that Charlie Wilson's War has resonance.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Wilson's motives for supporting the Afghan rebels. Does it seem realistic that he would so quickly devote himself to a cause he doesn't at first appear to understand? Is the movie subject easy or hard to understand? The film is also one in a recent rush of war-themed movies; do you think it encapsulates the issues of the time in a clear and succinct way? Why is Hollywood producing so many war-themed films lately? How do the politicians come across?
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