December 24, 2008
English / Dari / Arabic / Russian
102 Minutes — December 21, 2007
Biography / Drama
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin [A Few Good Men; Malice; The American President; Sports Night; The West Wing; Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip]
Mike Nichols [The Graduate; Catch-22; Silkwood; Biloxi Blues; Working Girl; Postcards From The Edge; Regarding Henry; Wolf; The Birdcage; Primary Colors; Wit; Angels In America; Closer]

Story of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the early 1980s. A trifecta of acting royalty play the main parts. Tom Hanks is Charlie Wilson, a real-life congressman from Texas. Julia Roberts plays a weathly socialite, also from Texas. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays a CIA guy who lacks a single diplomatic bone in his body. He is barely hanging on to his job. Wilson is in position to pass almost any funding through his several House committees. Because he deals in covert operations, his committee never has to tell the rest of the House what they’re voting on. That means that as the amounts get higher, the votes continue to pass.

Wilson is a playboy, coke user, drunkard Congressman who sees a report by Dan Rather (while in a hot tub with a bevy of naked beauties) on the Soviet invasion. The cold war is in full effect and Wilson is inspired by the goat herders who are providing quite a fight to the mighty Soviet army. He is encouraged by Roberts to visit a refugee camp which causes him to take up the fight on behalf of the Afghanis in ernest.

This all sounds pretty boring and politically wonky, but due to the screenplay, written by uber dialogue king Aaron Sorkin, the story never wavers. I’m sure they’ve made the story a bit more positive than real life, but it sure seemed like fun to covertly kick Russian ass. I’ve done some research and it is pretty true-to-life. Wilson’s office is staffed by a collection of assistants and secretaries who wouldn’t be out of place in a 1970s soft-porn movie. But he is impossible not to like.

He charms Israeli Jews and Egyptian Muslims with equal aplomb, sometimes using the charms of a “non-traditional” belly dancer to encourage the two enemies to join together against the evil communists.

It is impossible to watch this without thinking about modern-day Afghanistan. Much like the US cut-and-run first gulf war where we kicked Iraq out of Kuwait but then didn’t support the Iraqis who wanted to overthrow Saddam, we helped kick the Soviets out of Afghanistan, but then left a power vacuum that a man named Osama bin Laden took advantage of.

The scenes between Hoffman and Hanks rival the best give-and-take conversations that Sports Night or The West Wing had. I was smiling in amazement and recognition of Sorkin’s hand.

If there’s a major problem with the film, it’s that the story is so simplified–it seems so easy for an inspired congressman to change history–that it doesn’t ring particularly true. Like West Wing depicted a Washington DC where people were mostly good, this film shows everyone working together in service to beat the Russians. Which happened, but it must have been messier.

ON: Supporting Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman

6.9 Metacritic
7.4 IMDB

Charlie Wilson’s War @ Amazon


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3 Responses to “CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR”
  1. Aaron says:

    I live and am from DC, and have a pretty politically involved family (West Wing is big with us) and we all pretty much agree about Sorkin’s take on modern politics, but contradicting what your only flaw was with this film, both my parents (who both lived in DC during the events of the film and knew quite a few of the people depicted) agree that it too was yet another realistic depection of DC politics.

    My only issue with this movie was that Julia Roberts bugged the crap out of my and got so annoying early on, while I do agree Hoffman and Hanks’ banter was pretty priceless.

  2. MichaelVox says:

    I’m no fan of Julia myself, but somehow her real-life narcissism worked well into her too-rich-to-be-bothered character. I thought it was a sort of “look how hot I still am” role for her. I lived in DC from just before Clinton I to ’95 and I always thought that WW captured the ceremony pretty perfectly. I can’t count how many times I’d be walking to work or catching the bus on 16th street and the motorcade would cruise by and everyone would stop what they were doing.

    Good times.

    Thanks for writing.

  3. Aaron says:

    Hahahaha — nice comment about 16th street.

    Speaking about DC politics, I literally JUST got back from Frost/Nixon and hope you guys get around to discussing it soon on Cinebanter.

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Written by Michael W. Cummins