Let me introduce you to the characters.
Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland) is the ringleader and mad scientist, having a Satanic flair in convincing some of his fellow students into his racket or trying to find out what’s after death, arguing not for a religious but a scientific approach to truth and knowledge even though he’s equally about fame. Dave, (Kevin Bacon) reckless yet brilliant, reluctantly joins Nelson’s experiments only because he’s good at saving other people’s lives. Hurley (William BaldwinRachel (Julia Roberts), curious about her patients’ brushes with the afterlife and seen by the other characters as frigid because that’s what everyone thinks of driven female characters. Her femininity also makes the other students protect her from the experiment. And Oliver Platt, snarky yet poetic, exists here so that the audience already believes that most medical students aren’t hot youngsters with head shots.
I can still hear the Atlanta in Roberts’ speech. Bacon has been luckier, while Platt and Sutherland will eventually get roles that sort of echo the ones that they play here. Say what you will about Schumacher but the guy knows how to cast the movie.
Leave it up to Schumacher to create some garish images. Aided by his director of photography Jan de Bont, this movie is in the middle ground of ugly between his Batmans and his later work with Colin Farrell that I have yet to see, with his obsession with altitude as well as depicting some jumbled urban landscape. Hospital wings appropriately enough are littered with dead bodies for medical students to study but what are the red neon bars doing there? The exterior, however, is decorated with friezes depicting Medieval images of life and death flanking different sides of Hippocrates’ symbol.
Every structure is crumbling. Student housing where young kids play or abandoned buildings downtown. Nelson and Hurley’s lofts are minimally furnished where the latter videotapes his sexual experiences. There’s a church with a high ceiling surrounded by yellow tape and under renovation where the students irreverently do their experiments. And every time they enter a space or a scene begins we hear the jangle of an electric guitar or a synthesizer, making the movie’s aesthetics look way more dated than it already is.
Let’s talk about the afterlife sequences. Nelson’s seamless changes from a bucolic, all-American grassland to a forest with twined trees and other Gothic imagery like a paralyzed dog. Hurley’s is what would happen in Fritz Lang directed a Calvin Klein underwear commercial. Nelson’s afterlife blends into his real one is when Schumacher’s signature of neon pastel graffiti lights up and spooks his audience. Too bad that this kind of flashiness distracts from a truly compelling stories and set of characters, eventually loses my interest.
- Flatliners Remake on Its Way from Source Code Scribe for Sony (dreadcentral.com)
Adapting the late award-winning CBS producer George Crile’s book, Aaron Sorkin wrote Charlie Wilson’s War and probably had a play in mind, since most of the scenes consist of place, characters and their lines electrically ricochet. There’s little visual manipulation or tricks from director Mike Nichols. He’s the best director for these kind of ‘play’ movies, winning for Tony’s and all. We’ll jump to a scene where our hero, Congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) and American spy Gust Avrikotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) pay a visit to Zvi, an Israeli arms dealer.
Zvi: Afghanistan and Pakistan don’t recognize our right to exist, we just got done fighting a war against Egypt, and everyone who has ever tried to kill me or my family has been trained in Saudi Arabia!
Gust: That’s not true, Zvi. Some of them were trained by us.
A few minutes later, Charlie reveals a pending coke charge against him, And Zvi replies with ‘I love you Charlie, but you are a grown man who still hasn’t learned to look both ways before crossing the facking street!’
In many scenes of the movie, Hanks plays the straight guy and takes the back seat for Hoffman and Julia Roberts’ Joanne Herring. It’s wonderful to see Hanks as a part of an all-cast ensemble, but then again, when Julia Roberts is in the room, everyone else is a bag lady.
Speaking of her, Julia Roberts is both overrated and underrated. She dominated the box office in the 90’s yet people wanted to throw something at her when she won an Oscar against Ellen Burstyn. Charlie Wilson’s War is her second movie with Mike Nichols, the first being a happy woman with a dubious past. She’s also a mainstay in Steven Soderbergh’s movies as well as two early movies by disgraced director Joel Schumacher. Her hook up with directors isn’t as edgy as if she worked with Michael Haneke or Lars von Trier, but Nichols and Soderbergh give her great work she deserves.
Charlie Wilson’s War is a satire of Washignton’s lack of foresight, the Orwellian ‘Eurasia and Eastasia’ insanity that America has adopted, like a superpower that by its own fault has enemies and war zones change by the decade. One can see US imperialism, as shown in the film, as a parasite doing its mission in one country and leaving it devastated after the mission is accomplished.
But it’s not just the Americans who are at fault here. A young Afghan tells Charlie, ‘Don’t send us rice and bandages. Give us guns.’
Charlie Wilson’s War is gonna be on AMC again tonight and tomorrow afternoon. It’s a good laugh, or six.