Student Choice: Charlie Wilson’s War
“Charlie Wilson’s War” is a light-hearted but rigorous examination of an infinitely fascinating congressman whose obsession of defeating the Soviet Union was alleviated by the aid of like-minded individuals. The film goes into intricate detail about the greatest covert operation in United States history, sometimes in spite of analyzing the feelings of the characters and the consequences of their decisions. The ending is surprisingly touching, exuding a nostalgia admiring accomplishment and a direct, angry perspective of the lack of American involvement afterward by Charlie Wilson. It would have been a better film if his opinions were expressed this explicitly more often.
The acting talent on display in “Charlie Wilson’s War” is obviously supported by the clear direction of Mike Nichols and the sharp dialogue provided by Aaron Sorkin. Tom Hanks takes Charlie Wilson, a man widely seen as a country bumpkin, and turns him into a southern gentleman whose weaknesses for women and alcohol prevented him from being a historically great legislator. Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays Gus, a CIA agent, as a temperamental, intelligent, and opinionated operative who was just as knowledgeable about the possible consequences of the war as how to fight it. Although Julia Roberts has the second billing, Amy Adams is far more interesting as Charlie’s secretary, a woman who works for a man with morals and ethics that differ greatly from hers, and yet she supports and adores him anyway.
“Charlie Wilson’s War” has many moments of hilarity and is often intellectually exciting but always seems to keep the audience at arms length as the characters think within their seemingly unbreakable bubbles. Why did Charlie Wilson promiscuously drink and have sex? Why did he feel like Afghanistan was the time to use his influence to fight this war? “Charlie Wilson’s War” hardly speculates and, although the film is an entertaining experience, it is not necessarily memorable.
Critic’s Choice: Cinderella Man
There is a moment toward the beginning of “Cinderella Man” where Jim Braddock, a former boxing great, walks bruised, beaten, and defeated into the hotel suite of the same promoters who made a living at witnessing his physical destruction. After a brief silence acknowledging his respected presence, Braddock garners the courage to ask for $36 in order to turn his gas on and bring his family back together. He is a man of immense pride, his last shred of dignity painfully thrown aside in this moment of greatest need, and his misplaced and undeserved internal shame heartbreakingly resonates throughout the room. This was a familiar sight in the harshest midst of the perpetual despair known as the Great Depression, and the triumph of Jim Braddock was more a national than individual accomplishment.
“Cinderella Man” tells Braddock’s unbelievable true story with a genuine sincerity, showing how important sports are to the fabric of our nation. After years of working any job that would pay enough for his family to eat, Braddock finally caught a break when his former promoter and trainer offered him a fight. After years of essentially being forced into retirement by various injuries, he inexplicably won and briefly became the country’s favorite son. Braddock defeated a few other opponents before fighting Max Baer, a younger, bigger, and more ferocious fighter, for he heavyweight championship of the world.
Few people gave Braddock a chance to win the fight, just as there was little faith that America could return to being the dominant world power it was before the Great Depression. “Cinderella Man” makes it perfectly clear that Braddock was a symbol of America in every sense possible. Every punch he took coincided ideally with the obstacles the common man experienced during this tough time.
Jim Braddock became a hero not only because of his charity to society and loyalty to his family, but because he represented the belief that America could bring itself out of this massive and seemingly inescapable hole and once again become the ultimate world power. Max Baer, his final opponent, represented the bankers and investors who were responsible for the Great Depression, although he differs from them in that he was genuinely concerned for Braddock’s welfare. “Cinderella Man” illustrates the belief that patriotism in the movies is not reserved for war films, but rather signified by a common goal among a nation to overcome immense obstacles and achieve perpetual greatness.
Russell Crowe sees Braddock as a faithful and devoted family man who will do anything to keep his children in the same house. He hardly notices the glory that comes from the fights because he is too busy working toward the invisible goal of contentment that we all seek. Renee Zellweger, as his wife, and Paul Giamatti, as his trainer, are also exceptional, but Crowe’s humanity and decency drive the story to the heartwarming and tearful conclusion.
Braddock believed he was fighting for his family, but he was wrong. He was fighting for the man on the street who lost hope after losing his latest job and considered ending his life. He was fighting for the widow whose husband was killed over a bar room brawl that came from years of frustration over the lack of work. He was fighting for you, whoever you are, because the hopes and dreams of wishing for a living wage and a loving family are no different than those that were often silenced during the Great Depression, and “Cinderella Man” vividly and eloquently illustrates this truth, evoking strong emotions rarely felt in today’s movies.