Tonight in New York City was the first media screening of "Charlie Wilson's War." At the end, there was respectful applause. A journo pal who accompanied me as guest pretty much summed up what I thought, too: he liked it, but wasn't wowed, as he had hoped, given the pedigree of its creators.
That is "Charlie's" biggest problem. Expectations are stratosphere-high considering who's involved — past Oscar champs Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman enacting a script by Aaron Sorkin (author of Emmy winner "The West Wing" and Oscar best-pic nominee "A Few Good Men") that's directed by Mike Nichols (Oscar champ for helming "The Graduate").
Now that we've seen it: Will it be nominated for best picture? Well . . . hmmm . . . perhaps . . . but it's certainly not going to win. The lead film critic of one of New York's top three newspapers doesn't think it'll get a best-pic bid. Told me he even expects it to flop at the box office — I wouldn't predict that outrght, but I could see that happening. Not that it's a bad film. It's quite good. Solid. Well made and well played. But it's yet another Iraq/Afghan war film in a year crowded with many and it doesn't do what "The Kite Runner" does: doesn't take the wind out of you, like great movies are supposed to do. That's why "Kite" probably has the best shot for a best-pic bid from among all of these war pix.
"Charlie Wilson's War" is everything you expect when you learn the premise from advance promos: Tom Hanks does a solid acting job as boozy playboy congressman who teams up with a hawkish Texas tycoon (Roberts) and an obnoxious slob from the C.I.A. (Hoffman) to help rebels oust the Russians from Afghanistan. There's much high-minded talk about freedom and fine scotch and there's much boozing and smoking and sex and eating throughout this pic. But at no point was I gripped and breathless, wondering what would happen next. And at no point did I look back at the last scene and think, "Marvelous!"
However, Aaron Sorkin's script snaps and crackles with enough bon mots that he might get nommed. Hoffman is a strong contender for supporting actor. He has the best shot among potential performance nominees, I think. It's not impossible for costars Julia Robert or Tom Hanks to nab a nom, but neither one of them will win.
Bottom line: "Charlie Wilson's War" is good, but it isn't the great movie people expect. How forgiving will Hollywood be?