Charlie Wilson’s War

    Charlie Wilson’s War is based on a true story. Charlie Wilson was a representative from East Texas in the 80’s. In the film he is not the most energetic of house members, preferring hot tub parties in Vegas to floor debates in Washington. But the one thing he is passionate about is the Soviet menace. So when the Russians roll into Afghanistan and Jimmy Carter does nothing more than threaten sanctions and boycott the Olympics, Charlie springs into action. He uses his vast store of favors-as he says, he represents a district that doesn’t need anything, so he’s collected IOU’s without having to give any-to beef up the budget for the CIA’s secret effort to arm the Afghan resistance. All the Mujahideen need is a way to shoot down the Soviet helicopters. With the help of Gust Avrakotos, a prickly CIA operative, Wilson convinces Israel to work with Egypt and Saudi Arabia behind the scenes to smuggle Soviet made arms into Afghanistan.

    Tom Hanks plays Charlie Wilson with a sly variation on his natural charm. Wilson is an unabashed ladies man who also revels in political games. When aides are coming at him from all sides demanding decisions, he’s able to keep track of it all and he’s obviously enjoying it.

    Julia Roberts plays ultra-conservative fund raiser Joanne Herring. Roberts has emerged from the ingenue roles of her early career and grown into authoritative older women roles. And of course she’s still beautiful.

    Stealing the show, however, is Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos. This is another in a long line of memorable characters from Hoffman who plays Avrakotos as the sort of blowhard know-it-all that doesn’t inspire much confidence. But Gust does know what he’s doing and he guides Charlie through the labyrinthine world of the clandestine services. If Gust doesn’t know what’s needed, he knows the person who does.

    Hoffman and Hanks are magic together. They zip through Aaron Sorkin’s clever dialog with rare timing. It’s a joy to watch.
    Director Mike Nichols keeps thing moving at a good clip. The movie is about ninety minutes long and feels shorter. There is a section at the end where they deal with the fact that Charlie Wilson’s actions eventually resulted in the creation of Al Queda and the Taliban. They show him in committee rooms begging for funds to build schools in Afghanistan but all his IOU’s have been called in and nobody cares about the country anymore. Of course, they had to bring up that issue. Some critics have complained that this coda feels tacked on, but it worked for me.

    My only complaint is that the plot needs a few more complications. At no point did the scheme seem to be in danger. But I’m still heartily recommending Charlie Wilson’s War.


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January 2008
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