Winning the battle, losing the 'War'

The Baltimore Sun

When it's really bubbling, Charlie Wilson's War brings Broadway fizz to D.C., Houston and Cairo cocktail parties. It keeps you curious and amused for 97 minutes. But like many a cocktail party, it has an upside and a downside. It might refresh you after ponderous events or "event films" - but still leave you longing for more long-lasting experiences. It stars Tom Hanks, almost back to loose, wisecracking form, as a sybaritic East Texas congressman who uses his connections and committee positions to wangle funding for the Afghan rebels during the Soviet invasion.

Philip Seymour Hoffman steals the movie right up to the sprocket holes as Wilson's hard-bitten CIA adviser, Gust Avrakotos, and Julia Roberts swoops in periodically with a blinding star power as Joanne Herring, a Houston high-society fundraiser who pushes Wilson into adopting the Afghans' cause and becomes his biggest ally on the party circuit. Hanks may be more amusing than Roberts, but she wipes him off the screen with a bulletproof impersonation of carnivorous glamour - only to be swept away herself in her one big set-to with Hoffman, who's just amazing.

Charlie Wilson's War (Universal) Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Directed by Mike Nichols. Rated R. Time 97 minutes.

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