Having directed Primary Colors gives Mike Nichols credentials as a political director, and Charlie Wilsonís War is definitely a political film. Itís about a Texas congressman in the 80ís who figures out that the United States needs to help Afghanistan expel the Russians. He works his way through the defense appropriations subcommittee to get the budget for covert anti-Soviet ops in Afghanistan, which eventually leads to the Afghanis throwing the Soviets out.
Discussing the film wonít take very long, because what the film wants us to discuss is the history behind it. Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are perfectly in character, but not particularly remarkable in their performances. They are always perfectly professional, of course, and they are so deeply talented that anything they do is excellent, but neither of them brings anything new or particularly interesting to their characters or their story. Hanks plays Charlie Wilson, a hard-living-but-goodhearted congressman who starts to care about Afghani refugees, and Roberts plays Joanne Herring, the wealthy Texas evangelical power-behind-the-politics. Philip Seymour Hoffman has an excellent turn as the dumpy-but-brilliant CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (who seems to speak with John Goodmanís voiceóthat is so weird), and Amy Adams does well in as Wilsonís accommodating-to-a-point assistant. Hanks establishes a good screen rapport with both Roberts, Hoffman, and Adamsóbut again, who doesnít have good rapport with Tom Hanks? And writer Aaron Sorkin, along with Nichols, does a good job of laying out the elements of a complex plot with players all over the globe, and showing how politics, economics, and religion all intertwined to create this situation and its solution.
It was a decent movie; I wasnít blown away, but it wasnít a waste of my time, either.
The only truly compelling piece of this film was the question of whether doing what clearly needed to be done then has led the US to the difficult situation weíre in now. In case we didnít connect all the dots throughout the film, here they are in a nutshell: In the 80ís, we (the US) secretly armed the Afghanis to expel the Soviets and stop Communist encroachment in the Middle East. The Soviets left and so did we, leaving a war torn country full of suffering and angry teenagers with no help to build hospitals, schools, or infrastructure. Suffering and angry people are ripe for exploitation, and who came along to fill that gap? The Taliban and Al-Qaida, who do not know that we were the ones who armed and financed them to throw off Communist oppression (because it was covert); they only know that when they asked for help rebuilding, we said no.
But at least we left them with some really nice weaponsówhich they are now using against our people, our troops, and all the people of the West. And instead of communism spreading throughout the Middle East, Islamic fundamentalism has done so instead.
The moment in this film when these strands are pulled together comes toward the end, when Gust tells Wilson that now they have to finish the job by building schools, providing training, building hospitals, etc. Wilson looks pole-axed; he thought his job was done. But as the camera closes in on his face, and we see his mental wheels turning, we hear the unmistakable sound of a jet losing altitude. We know what that sound is; itís the nightmare sound of 9/11. Nichols connects the last dot in that moment, because we in 2008 know that no matter what Charlie Wilson does next, itís not enough.
But itís not Hanks, Roberts, or Nichols who deliver that shattering moment. Itís history itself. What other choices could we have made in that historical moment? The film gives us some insight, and whatever its weaknesses are, it does get us thinking about it.
|Title||Charlie Wilson`s War|
|Genre||Biography, Drama, Political|