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War a backstage pass to CIA

Part historical biography, part political thriller, 'Charlie Wilson's War' gives you plenty to chew on without making you feel like it was forced down your throat. Mike Nichols ('Closer') tells a compact story that makes a bit of a political statement, but mostly, Nichols just tells a story.

Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is a man of many contradictions. The first Charlie Wilson, the one the media knows, is a womanizing congressman from a small district in Texas. The second Charlie Wilson is a news buff who stumbles onto the plight of Afghan citizens under attack by the Communist Russians. He's the perfect person to wage a covert war against the Soviets, the mutual enemy of the U.S. and Afghanistan.

Charlie partners with CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and rich activist Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) to shuffle billions of dollars of weapons and ammunition into the hands of Afghan men thirsty for revenge on the Soviets.

Seymour Hoffman delivers a brilliant performance as a sharp, confident manipulator. His exchanges with Tom Hanks' unlikely congressman are the best in the film.

This backstage pass to the workings of CIA and the U.S. State Department - even though in retrospect - is a story that needed to be told. Many of the details in the film are recounted through Charlie Wilson's biographer George Crile.

The movie ends on a wistful note, sort of an artful ellipsis that leaves movie goers thinking about the current state of Afganistan and the ramifications of the actions of the U.S. government.