Thursday, December 25, 2008

Slick... and Obscene

There are several conceits at the center of Mike Nichol’s movie, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” that border on the obscene.

The first is that one America man sees human suffering and thus infuses the hardships of others with meaning. Without his personal “moment,” the cruelties of the world are mute and moot.

Specifically, Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) visits Afghanistan, which is being pummeled by Soviet airships. Then he visits the refugee camps, talks to the limbless children and witnesses first hand the horrors of real life away from the flesh pits of Washington and Houston.

But it is not the wounded and impoverished Afghanis for whom we are asked to shed a tear.

Here is the first conceit. It is the now ennobled Yankee we are encouraged to champion. We can tell that this is our mission because the orchestra swells in rising crescendos of hope and glory, and the congressman covers his eyes in empathetic pain. This is an obscenity.

The second is that music score.

The next time the trumpets blare and the holy choirs rise on high, honorable Afghani peasants, armed now with covertly supplied Israeli anti-helicopter and anti-tank weapons, slaughter Soviet soldiers with the same relentless efficiency that the Soviets had previously mowed down the women and children of Afghanistan. Were we supposed to cheer?

The last time the music score offends is in the crowning moments of the film, when the good Congressman is being given a medal. His co-plotters, a wealthy Texas woman (Julia Roberts) and a CIA/FBI operative (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), look on in teary co-conspirator admiration.

The music here and the moment are pure “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” I fully expected Hanks to melt into Richard Dreyfus, much like John Travolta and Nicholas Cage kept doing in “Face Off,” until you couldn’t tell – or care – who was blowing up whom.

And care is important here.

In spite of terrific work from three terrific actors and Hollywood mega-stars, and direction from the legendary Nichols (“The Graduate,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff?” and “Catch-22”), there is nothing one can possibly care about in this flick.

The script and dialogue (Aaron Sorkin) is very fast and clever and witty and fast and clever and witty.

It goes by faster than your first sex experience and with almost as much resonance.

Now, if you want an experience even more execrable than watching the movie, try sitting through the "special features" on the DVD and listening to the actors discussing how great they all are and how important this trifle really is meant to be.

Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter, the great British playwright, actor, screen writer and director has died. He was 78, and a Nobel prize winner.

The rich and extensive NY Times bio can be read here.

I've owned a Vinyl LP of this Tchaikovsky Concerto since I was about 21. The great David Oistrakh plays