Home > Reviews > CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR – James Newton Howard

CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR – James Newton Howard

December 21, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A political comedy-drama from director Mike Nichols and writer Aaron Sorkin, Charlie Wilson’s War tells the outrageously true story of former Texas congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), a minor political player in Ronald Reagan’s administration who, through a series of contrived circumstances, finds himself part of a covert plot to supply the Afghan mujahaddin freedom fighters with the weapons and support to defeat the Soviet Union. The film also stars Julia Roberts as conservative fundraiser and lobbyist Joanne Herring, Philip Seymour Hoffman as shady CIA agent Gust Avrakotos, and Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Om Puri and Ned Beatty in smaller roles; the film was a critical success, but never really took flight with audiences, and ended up being one of the least-lucrative box office films of Tom Hanks’s career.

James Newton Howard’s music is a very entertaining mélange of traditional orchestral scoring and world music fusion, beginning with a quite superb, noble theme for “Charlie Wilson” in the opening cue which resonates to sweeping strings, noble horns and tender acoustic guitars; this theme is recapitulate warmly in the stirring final cue, “Honored Colleague”.

The world music aspects, obviously intended to act as a geographic marker for the Afghans, are heard in the likes of “Refugee Camp” and “The Belly Dancer”, and are undeniably authentic, the featuring an array of ethnic percussive and wind instruments alongside a wailing Middle Eastern vocalist, the latter featuring a breathy, enticing performance by Indian vocalist Gingger whispering ‘dah dah dah’ over the music.

Once or twice Howard does something really unexpected – the down home country orchestrations in “Telex Machine” being a notable surprise – but by far the most outlandish cue is “Turning the Tide”, which starts out as a fairly low-key action and suspense cue, but eventually erupts into an enormous, re-orchestrated recapitulation of the chorus “And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” from the Overture from Handel’s Messiah. The stunning musical effect plays over a scene of Soviet helicopter gun ships being decimated by the mujahaddin, emphasizing the ironic juxtaposition of the scene, and is one of 2007’s standout film music moments.

Without this cue, Charlie Wilson’s War would just be another standard political-drama score with nothing especially notable to recommend it; this one cue makes all the difference, and makes it a worthwhile score to pick up.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Charlie Wilson (3:03)
  • Telex Machine (1:32)
  • Jailbait (1:06)
  • Refugee Camp (5:11)
  • It’s Up To Me (2:48)
  • The Belly Dancer (2:41)
  • Turning the Tide (8:33)
  • Where’s It At, Charlie? (1:12)
  • Balcony (1:29)
  • Honored Colleague (6:09)

Running Time: 33 minutes 44 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6870 (2007)

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