Published November 29, 2007
In Mike Nichols’ adaptation of "Charlie Wilson’s War," Julia Roberts is the comeback kid of 2007. She may not get an Oscar nomination, but she nevertheless is fetching, funny and sardonic — her three best skills — while wearing a series of nearly preposterous wigs.
"Charlie Wilson’s War," which is almost the last movie of 2007 to be shown to anyone, is relatively short at 98 minutes but has a pretty big cast.
It also has lots and lots of dialogue, thanks to "West Wing" writer Aaron Sorkin, who loves to spew policy speeches and doesn’t quite know where to cut them off.
Luckily, Nichols does, and he also — as a very funny man — was smart enough to keep "Charlie Wilson’s War" chuckling through tough times. He does this mostly through his two main characters, Charlie, the Texas congressman played by Tom Hanks, and Gust, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s three-dimensional CIA agent.
Together this trio set out — as documented in the late reporter George Crile’s excellent book of the same name — to topple the Soviet regime in Afghanistan 20 years ago by funding a covert war against them with American money.
Of course, the point of the film is that there was no provision for what would come next. We all now know what that was: the Taliban.
To Nichols’ credit, "Charlie Wilson’s War" is the most entertaining of all the political films that audiences have rejected this year. This is thanks to a smart script and to the actors, all of whom give enjoyable performances.
I loved Hanks’ cool-as-a-cucumber Charlie, who almost gets in trouble by partying with a shady TV producer who wants to make "Dallas" in Washington.
Ironically, after seeing Hanks as Charlie, you’re going to think he’d make the perfect J.R. Ewing in a straight movie version of "Dallas." He’s comical, cunning, clever and conniving.
Hanks hasn’t played a leading role in a while, and — as in his best work, such as "Saving Private Ryan" or "Catch Me if You Can" — he’s deceptively good here.
The few people who’ve seen "Charlie Wilson" think the movie belongs to Hoffman. Well, look: The whole year belongs to Hoffman. He’s got two star turns in leads in "The Savages" and "Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead." Here he’s supporting, but his Gust — with a ‘t’ — is so captivating he tends to steal most of his scenes. Luckily, this is not "Mission Impossible 3." Tom and Julia are well-matched with him.
I knew Crile, the author and CBS News reporter and producer who died tragically in 2006 of pancreatic cancer at age 61. He was happily married to Susan Lyne, who runs Martha Stewart’s company.
George was like the movie version of a crusading journalist — Robert Redford could have played him. So seeing "Charlie Wilson" come to fruition on screen is a lovely grace note for a great life cut short.
Remember all the times we thought NBC was going to cancel "Law & Order"? Well, the original Dick Wolf series is getting the last laugh on the Peacock network.
It turns out there will be 13 new episodes shot and ready to go beginning Jan. 3 with Sam Waterston, Jesse L. Martin and S. Epatha Merkerson returning, as well as new stars Linus Roache and Jeremy Sisto set to revitalize the series.
The joke, of course, is that thanks to the Writers Guild strike, most shows will not have new episodes after the new year. But I’m told "Law & Order" has gotten the jump on its competition and will debut back in its old Wednesday slot at 10 p.m.
Waterston, as we first reported a long time ago, sees his Jack McCoy character finally move up to district attorney after nearly two decades spent implausibly as an assistant district attorney.
Sources say he’s terrific in the new position and has just as much air time as before. Roache, the gifted actor from "Priest" and "The Wings of a Dove," takes McCoy’s place as new executive ADA Michael Cutter.
And don’t think "Law & Order" will be without female representation. Alana de la Garza is joining the cast as new ADA Connie Rubirosa from "CSI: Miami," where she played David Caruso’s wife. Set insiders tell me de la Garza has had a total makeover and "is so hot it’s not funny."
There’s still a little fallout from Tuesday night’s Gotham Awards at the drafty, remote Steiner Studios in Brooklyn’s Navy Yards, where coffee is served in thimble-sized cups.
Some people thought Josh Brolin was being out of sorts with IFC Film’s Jonathan Sehring. Knowing Brolin, he probably was just Joshing. ...
Brolin, by the way, is being put in the lead actor category for the Oscars for his work in "No Country for Old Men." I had him in supporting. Lead is ultra-crowded this year, with Hoffman, John Cusack, Daniel Day-Lewis, George Clooney, Hanks and Johnny Depp already lined up. Josh, jump right in! ...
My friend Mark Urman of THINKFilm reassures us that his campaign for Sidney Lumet and the remarkable "Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead" is in full swing. Mark says I needn’t worry about Lumet and that the THINK folks are enthusiastically plugging away.
Need I be reminded that last year, their very own Ryan Gosling came out of nowhere and scored a much-deserved Best Actor nod for "Half Nelson"? Mark says big things are coming for Lumet and the film, including Marisa Tomei’s Independent Spirit nomination for Best Supporting Actress. There’s also talk from the West Coast of a Lifetime Achievement Award coming to Lumet from the Los Angeles Film Critics.
I’ve known Mark for over 20 years, and I have every confidence he can pull this off. So we’ll just keep plugging for Lumet and know he’s in good hands. …
Meanwhile, Mary Gimbel Lumet, Sidney’s beloved and beautiful wife of 27 years, was in the audience Wednesday night at the IFC Center for D.A. Pennebaker's "Dylan 65." During the Q&A, Pennebaker was asked how he felt about Todd Haynes' mimicking large parts of the former’s "Don’t Look Back" in "I’m Not There."
Pennebaker, who likes Haynes’ film, says "'Don’t Look Back' is like a rock that people have sprayed all sorts of numbers on over the years. Then someone comes and takes the numbers and uses them for other things."
He told the audience he hoped that documentary films’ capturing of "real" moments can be copyrighted sometime soon. "Because you know they’re going to start remaking documentaries soon just like fiction films." ...
Campanile, the famed Los Angeles restaurant on La Brea, is helping out striking writers. Starting Wednesday night, Chef Mark Peel was offering an $18 meal to WGA members on Wednesdays. Everyone’s hopeful there will be no more strike Wednesdays, but if there are, Peel is there.
On Wednesday night about 20 writers came in, sources say, including New Yorker Amy Ephron and writer/producers Francesca and Roberto de Laurentiis. Soon they’ll be able to eat Peel’s food at home, by the way. He and best-selling cookbook author Martha Rose Shulman are writing the Campanile book together for publication next year.