28 January 2008

CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR and PARTICIPANT PRODUCTIONS

Nobody expected that Jeff Skoll, one of the founders of the internet auction site, Ebay, would venture into Hollywood film production. Okay, perhaps it was a little predictable especially considering he had millions in loose change to invest in any commercially viable enterprises. Of course, Hollywood is not a profitable industry. Few films make actual money. It has always been about the glamour and prestige of your name associated with a product that reaches a worldwide audience but does so through the seductive power of the cinematic image. Over the last few years, Jeff Skoll's production company, Participant Productions has managed to establish itself as one of the fiercest supporters of important and relevant social and political causes, and has successfully produced a credible and diverse body of work including films like Syrianna, North County, Good Night & Good Luck and Charlie Wilson's War. These are films that can be deemed political statements. Apart from the association with contemporary Hollywood stars like George Clooney in particular, most of these films have been successful in securing a distribution deal via Warner Bros and most significantly have reached their intended audience, making a credible dent at the box office. The latest Jeff Skoll finanical venture is Charlie Wilson's War and once again is another film, this time a political satire, that deals with a sensitive American issue - the covert funding and support of the Afghan Mujaheddin during the Soviet Union occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s which contributed to the defeat of Communism.

Brilliantly acted by Tom Hanks as Senator Charlie Wilson and with a bravura supporting cast made up of the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts, Mike Nichol's returns to the arena of American politics which he so incisively explored in Primary Colours with John Travolta's hilarious turn as a Bill Clinton like Democratic Candidate running for office. Beginning with his caustic and satirical commentary on 1960s sexual permissiveness, The Graduate, afforded Mike Nichols with an Oscar for Best Director, he has made a career out of sending up the dubious and hypocritical nature of an American society which has difficulty keeping up with the changes within the rest of the world especially a liberated Europe. I personally felt the film could have done with being a little longer but I can understand how difficult it can be to sustain a running time of more than 100 minutes for a political comedy. The final title and quote used at the end of the film sums up America's ambivalent and short term approach to foreign policy decisions. Though this is not brave film making, it is Hollywood taking another stab at the failures of the Bush administration, and that is something which should be praised. The other highlight of the film is that it features Tom Hank's being funny, which makes a change because comedy is something that comes naturally to him and which he does not do enough of anymore.

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