MELISSA BLOCK, host:
"Charlie Wilson's War" is a film about how the U.S. armed the Afghan Mujahideen to fight the Soviets during the Cold War. So it may seem surprising that the movie has been nominated for five Golden Globe Awards in the musical or comedy categories.
"Charlie Wilson's War" is not a musical, but Bob Mondello says it does have its share of laughs.
BOB MONDELLO: We first see Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson watching Dan Rather on TV while lounging in a hot tub with naked chorus girls. As played by Tom Hanks, Wilson is a good old boy, a backslapping, joke-telling, hard-drinking politician. But he has a keen political mind, and even surrounded by babes in a hot tub, he can't help wondering why Dan Rather is wearing a turban on a newscast.
So when he gets back to his office, he requests a CIA briefing and gets it from agent Gust Avrakotos, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who arrives looking shabby and carrying a bottle.
(Soundbite of movie, "Charlie Wilson's War")
Mr. TOM HANKS (Actor): (As Charlie Wilson) Do you drink?
Mr. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN (Actor): (As Gust Avrakotos) Oh, God, yeah.
Mr. HANKS: (As Charlie Wilson) Well, shall we try this scotch or is it going to release serine gas when I open it?
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Gust Avrakotos) I don't think so, but open it over there.
Mr. HANKS: (As Charlie Wilson) How did a guy like you get into the agency?
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Gust Avrakotos) You mean, a street guy?
Mr. HANKS: (As Charlie Wilson) You ain't James Bond.
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Gust Avrakotos) And you ain't Thomas Jefferson, so let's call it even.
Mr. HANKS: (As Charlie Wilson) Deal.
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Gust Avrakotos) Since there's no other reason i should be here, let's assume I'm very good with this.
MONDELLO: This is figuring out what the Soviets are doing in Afghanistan. And someone else who's good at it is Texas socialite Joanne Herring played by Julia Roberts.
(Soundbite of movie, "Charlie Wilson's War")
Ms. JULIA ROBERTS (Actress): (As Joanne Herring) You preside over a secret and unlimited budget for the three agencies you would need to conduct a covert war. Isn't that right?
Mr. HANKS: (As Charlie Wilson) I also have seats at the Kennedy Center.
Ms. ROBERTS (Actress): (As Joanne Herring) Isn't that how you were able to double the CIA budget for black ops(ph) in Afghanistan just by saying so?
Mr. HANKS: (As Charlie Wilson) Why are you only asking me questions you already know the answers to?
Ms. ROBERTS (Actress): (As Joanne Herring) Why is Congress saying one thing and doing nothing?
Mr. HANKS: (As Charlie Wilson) Well, tradition, mostly?
MONDELLO: Doing nothing even if it's tradition wasn't Wilson's style, apparently. He arranged secret backing for the Mujahideen in what ended up being their victorious Holy War against the Soviets without anyone much noticing at the time, except journalist George Crile, who spent some 13 years writing a book about how Wilson did it.
Aaron Sorkin has now adapted that book as an almost continuous rush of uproarious chatter about everything from Texas party etiquette to Pakistani sarcasm. He also has great fun with the tag-team act that Charlie and Gus developed to, say, persuade a Jewish arms dealer to supply weapons for Muslim fundamentalists.
Mr. HANKS: (As Charlie Wilson) Will you help us help them shoot down these helicopters?
Unidentified Man: Yes. I mean, I don't like this guy.
Mr. HANKS: (As Charlie Wilson) I know how you feel.
Unidentified Man: What happens now?
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Gust Avrakotos) You come with us to Cairo.
Unidentified Man: This meeting is going to be professional.
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Gust Avrakotos) Oh, absolutely. We'll be talking to Deputy Defense Minister Ross Boskets(ph), a belly dancer, and a friend of Charlie's.
Mr. HANKS: (As Charlie Wilson) A good friend of mine back in Texas is a well-known belly dancer. It's always been her dream to perform in Egypt, so she's our way in. While she's dancing for the defense minister, we'll be talking to the deputy.
Unidentified Man: Oh, my God.
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Gust Avrakotos) Nah. She's supposed to be good.
MONDELLO: What makes all of this jaw-dropping is that it actually happened. But what makes it entertaining is that director Mike Nichols gives it a satirical spin in the retelling.
After a whole fall of serious films about the Middle East, it's easy to imagine this story ending up lumbering and preachy. But with Nichols at the helm, "Charlie Wilson's War" only 90 minutes, powered by sharp performances, a sophisticated script and a light touch even when it comes to the story's central irony - how that the enemy of my enemy is my friend thing played out a few years later. Imagine trusting an audience to figure that one out for themselves.
I'm Bob Mondello.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.