Based on a true story, Mike Nichols’ new film, Charlie Wilson’s War is a flawed, but entertaining examination of one man’s crusade to help the people of Afghanistan fight the Russian invaders, a decision that would have repercussions for the United States years after the conflict ended. The Afghan war in the 1980s is a subject rarely tackled, with the only other really notable film tackling the subject being the lamentable Rambo III.
Charlie Wilson is a congressman representing Texas. He’s doesn’t cut the form of what you’d expect from a congressman, and spends his free time cavorting with strippers, womanising and being an all-round player. He drinks whiskey like it’s going out of fashion and uses his position within the government to benefit his social life. While at a coke party in Las Vegas, Wilson watches a news report about the Mujahedeen fighting the Russian invaders in Afghanistan. Wilson is intrigues by this and sets about finding a way for the US to help these rebels. He is contacted by Joanne Herring, a billionaire widow who has the similar goal of helping the Afghans. Meanwhile, Gust Avrakotos, one of only a few CIA operatives interested in helping the Afghans stop the communists contacts Wilson to ‘thank’ him for doubling his department’s budget. Wilson and Avrakotos, funded by Herring’s money and contacts set about helping the Afghans get the training and weaponry they need in the biggest covert operation the US has ever undertaken.
First off, let me just say that the subject matter of Charlie Wilson’s War is pretty fascinating. It’s very interesting to see just how Wilson was able to raise billions for the Mujahedeen and help them defeat the Russians. However, it’s a common misconception that the US defeated communism, when in fact, the communist USSR was crumbling under it’s own weight and was only months from a complete collapse. But that point aside, Charlie Wilson’s War is a good, if flawed film.
Mike Nichols no stranger to political films, having directed the excellent Wag The Dog. While Wag The Dog was an excellent satire on spin and how to divert the public’s attention away from the real issues affecting the government, this satirical style doesn’t quite work for Charlie Wilson’s War. It seems at times that the film is a farce. And while this may be all right for a fictional film, this film is a true story, and the style just seems really out of place at times. The script, written by Aaron Sorkin of The West Wing fame moves pretty quickly and the dialogue is very sharp. But the overall film doesn’t quite fit the story it’s trying to tell, and it’s this that is the weakness of the film.
The acting from pretty much everyone is top notch. Tom Hanks is as brilliant as always playing the slightly sleazy but lovable rogue, Charlie Wilson. It’s good to see Hanks playing someone who’s maybe a little morally questionable, as Hanks is somewhat known for playing clean-cut romantic leads (when he’s not delivering awards-worthy dramatic performances). But he seems very comfortable playing Wilson and he’s on top, as always. Julia Roberts, who I don’t really like as an actress at all, is also quite good playing Joanne Herring. However, the show is stolen, as always, by Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos. Hoffman is simply a fascinating actor to watch. Every role he plays, he seems to take on a physical and personal change. He completely embodies each of his characters, and always is the one thing on screen you cant help but watch. He’s loud, brash and extremely abrasive as Gust Avrakotos, but that’s the role, and he plays it fantastically. The only member of the cast who seems somewhat wasted is Amy Adams. It’s only a matter of time before she becomes a household name, and it feels that she’s not given enough to do here.
All in all, Charlie Wilson’s War is a good, but not great film. The film ends just after the Russians withdraw from Afghanistan, and the ending seems a little abrupt. During a party celebrating the success in Afghanistan, Avrakotos gives Wilson a serious warning about what happens next in Afghanistan. Knowing what we do now, this warning is even more grave. But this part seems to be brushed over, and at a running time of 97 minutes, you are kind of left feeling there could have been a little more in the film that explored this. Charlie Wilson’s War is quite entertaining, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is amazing to watch. It’s a flawed film, but worth a watch.