Every so often a movie comes along that you can identify with on some personal level. For me watching an unassuming Congressman from the 2nd Congressional District of Texas, who likes to party hearty with booze and other assorted drugs, and hook-up with strippers and other assorted women was like looking in a mirror. Charlie Wilson was me, minus the Congressman part (and since I’ve aged considerably, minus the assorted drugs and stripper parts too).
Charlie Wilson’s War chronicles, in a very laid back manner, how a mostly do-nothing guy, managed to shape the world we live in today – for better and for worse. On the better front, Charlie Wilson’s resolve, back-alley handshakes with fellow Congressmen and arms dealers, coupled with the help of a C.I.A. agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a very well connected Texan socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) halted the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. How they managed to do it is nothing short of astonishing because, for their plan to work, the stars needed to be aligned oh-so perfectly.
In a nutshell, Mr. Wilson needed to get Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan (and probably others) to all put their intense hatred for one another aside and to play nicely together. Israel and Egypt were needed to supply the Russian made weaponry to Pakistan, who in turn transported it all via mule to the Mujahideen who were fighting the Soviet occupation. Saudi Arabia was needed to work behind the scenes with the U.S., matching the funds (which eventually peaked to one billion dollars) used to purchase weapons and train the resistance. In a few short years, the freedom fighters had turned the tide and had begun to inflict heavy losses on their invaders, until such time that the Red Army turned around and ran back home with their tails between their legs.
I probably don’t have to explain the worse side of things – just take a look at the state of the Middle East and the world now. After the war, the “civilized” nations (I won’t just drop the hot potato in the lap of the U.S.) turned their collective backs on Afghanistan and in large, the entire area. The result after many years of infighting and Pakistani interference was the Taliban – a ruling party based on strict Muslim law, who ultimately provided a safe haven for those who unequivocally hated the West and all it stood for (we call them terrorists) . You know the rest – 9/11, the war in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom), the war in Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom) – it’s a complete fucking mess.
Anyways, back to grading Charlie Wilson’s War on the merits of being a good movie. Aaron Sorkin does a great job adapting the screenplay from the George Crile novel of the same name. Mike Nichols does a fine job directing the story and never lets it turn into a political melodrama. He keeps it flowing with great wit, charm and comedy. Seeing as the premise itself particularly funny, it is obviously a byproduct of the fact that the characters are all, well, unique characters. Charlie Wilson is a womanizing, alcoholic who seems to simply love what his position affords him, especially since he does so little to earn it. I don’t think anyone other than Tom Hanks could have captured Charlie’s desire to do and be something more with the same level of enthusiasm. Gust Avrakotos, on the other hand, may have been the crudest son-of-a-bitch on earth. I’ve been told I have manners of a slug and a cocky attitude, but I can assure you, I’ve never smashed my boss’s office window or told them to go fuck themselves (Gust does this and more). Philip Seymour Hoffman will undoubtedly earn an Oscar nod for this role.
I must say, I was completely caught off guard with Charlie Wilson’s War. I expected a stuffy, slow, agenda-driven film and instead got a well-paced, fun, enlightening movie. Even if you can’t stand movies with a political or war-related backdrop, absolutely hate the United States or are just a generally unhappy soul, you’ll find something to like here. I highly recommend it.