Charlie Wilson’s War Review

Wasn’t sure what I would end my Tom Hanks marathon on, but after just watching “American Made,” the subject of  this film felt very relevant. This review comes from February 11, 2009, which would make it a second-semester college film. That’s right, I did things like watch “Charlie Wilson’s War” instead of partying.

Books and films about the past are often made because they resonate with the time in which they are published or released. No example is more fitting than “Charlie Wilson’s War,” which shows how what was once a great–albeit covert–American success in Afghanistan in the 1980s had far-reaching consequences that we deal with today. It’s a film that teaches us to be mindful of the past and to be conscious of how our current actions might affect the future.

Director Mike Nichols, though certainly a capable director, doesn’t do much to add to this film. This is writer’s film — a great screenplay delivered by “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin. Clearly there’s no arguing he’s got the credentials to deliver “Charlie Wilson’s War,” originally a book by George Crile. It’s smart, witty, intellectual and there’s plenty of spice mixed in. Then of course you have incredible talents delivering the script: a writer can’t ask for better than Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The film centers on Texas congressman Charlie Wilson, a whiskey-drinking womanizer who doesn’t claim to be anything else. He’s a paragon of the immoral politician and this sets him up to be not only a great character, but someone who will certainly learn a thing or two. Hanks gives him the perfect dose of Southern charm to woo you away from dwelling on his sexist behavior and questionable politics.

Somehow, Charlie is raptured by what he sees going on in Afghanistan, where the Soviet Union has been unleashing air attacks. With the influences of a wealthy Houston woman (Roberts), Charlie manages to increase funding for countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan to defend themselves. With the help of the CIA and agent Gust Avrakotos (Hoffman), he is able to keep it quiet so that the country doesn’t even know that it’s really fighting a war.

Since this is a political drama, there’s a lot of talking, which makes the characters even more critical. In addition to Hanks, Hoffman provides some comic relief with his character’s quick temper and foul mouth. It’s just what a film with no action needs to stay interesting. The 90 minutes length is also helpful.

What makes this film go from good to very good is the knowledge that the viewer brings in. Twenty years from now this might not make an impact on your average viewer with no sense of today’s War in Afghanistan. Knowing that arming these countries with weapons to fight Communism was going to come back and bite us in the form or our own war with these countries makes the process of how Wilson went about this all the more interesting.


4/5 Stars


Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
Directed by Mike Nichols
Written by Aaron Sorkin (screenplay), George Crile (book)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams


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