Charlie Wilson's War


Directed by: Mike Nichols
Written by:Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Om Puri
Released: January 24, 2008
Grade: A-

When we’re introduced to Charlie Wilson (Hanks) at the start of the film, we see him as a womanising U.S. senator from Texas who doesn’t really do much.  It’s the early 1980s and someone says it best when they describe Charlie’s greatest achievement as “being re-elected five times”.

Charlie Wilson is approached by Joanne Herring (Roberts), an extremely wealthy woman with an interest in human rights.  She pleads with Charlie to do something about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  Over 130,000 Soviet soldiers have taken control of the country and the Afghans have no weapons with which to fight back.  Thousands of citizens have fled into neighbouring Pakistan.

Joanne realises that Charlie is a member of a number of parliamentary committees and can use his influence to get something done.  Charlie realises that Joanne has both money and influence – two elements that will be very useful in getting himself re-elected once again.  He agrees to go to Pakistan, meet with the Prime Minister and see the problem for himself.

It is an eye opening experience for Charlie.  He returns to the United States and is determined to get something he done.  He meets with the FBI agent responsible for the war in Afghanistan, Gust Avrakotos (Hoffman).  With the help of a few others, they develop a strategy of secretly providing weapons to the Afghans without the Soviets knowing.  All that remains is to find a way of getting government funding for their plan…

This may sound hard to believe but Charlie Wilson’s War is (a) based on a true story, and (b) a comedy.  It is based on the novel by George Crile, a long time producer on the television show 60 Minutes.  This could easily have been a deep political drama but writer Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The American President) and director Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Catch-22) have turned in into a light-hearted farce, filled with intelligent one-liners.  I like their approach and the casting of Academy Award winners Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman will further help lure an audience.

I admit to being a little “iffy” about some of the political messages that the film is trying to get across.  Be warned – the finale may not sit well with everyone.  I have an issue with how the Americans and Soviets are portrayed.  I don’t think it was a simple as the film made out and was offended by a particular scene involving Soviet pilots in the air.  Did Sorkin and Nichols include this scene for a reason?  Are they deliberately trying to be controversial to get people to talk about it?  I don’t know.

Still, I enjoyed the story being told in Charlie Wilson’s War and it’s refreshing to see an intelligent comedy which looks how wars are funded and the way the U.S. political system really works.