We gave it a B+
The story is sadly familiar: A war is fought in the Middle East. A good ol’ boy politician from Texas is heavily involved. And the consequences are world-changing. But despite the similarities to today’s headlines, Mike Nichols decided to steer clear of sober political allegory. ”I tend to have a lot of difficulty following movies that even touch on wars,” says the veteran director (The Graduate). ”I liked that it was funny, and I was in love with the three people we were making the movie about.”
It was Tom Hanks who first fell for Wilson’s unusual saga — in the pages of 60 Minutes journalist George Crile’s 2003 nonfiction best-seller. Hanks snatched up the rights to produce and play the congressman who teams up with a semirogue CIA spook (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a Houston socialite (Julia Roberts) in the ’80s to arm the Afghan mujahideen against Soviet invaders. Aaron Sorkin had also become obsessed with Wilson’s Zelig-like position at the center of major events and pursued the screenwriting gig before the book even came out. ”If the two greatest threats we’ve faced are the spread of Soviet Communism and Islamic fanaticism,” says the West Wing creator, ” here’s a guy who had a hand in ending one and accidentally starting the other.”
Throughout the shoot, which ranged from California to Morocco, the cast relished the chance to play heartland eccentrics hell-bent on saving the world from Communism. ”If I didn’t say ‘Cut,’ Tom would just come up with his own dialogue,” Nichols recalls. ”Some of the time I kept it because it was so funny.” This also happens to be the movie that lured Roberts out of an extended maternity leave after the 2004 birth of her twins. She plays a born-again fashion maven who outfits Afghan warriors in designer duds and helps Wilson win their trust. ”Julia and I love working together,” says Nichols, who last directed Roberts in 2004’s Closer. This time, they get to trade angry sexual jealousy for lighthearted Southern charm.