Charlie Wilson's War

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Charlie Wilson's War
Review (10/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

On September 11th, 2001 shortly before 9:00 a.m., I was sitting in Toronto's Pearson Airport waiting to board a return flight to Timmins. I watched as a breaking news flash scrolled across the television in the lounge - a plane had crashed into World Trade Center in New York City. Within minutes of the news hitting the airwaves, a second plane had followed it.

My plane boarded before the rest of the morning's events would unfold. Mine was one of the last planes to leave Pearson Airport that day before the flights were grounded. By the time that my flight landed in Timmins, the world as I knew it had changed forever.

In the days following the World Trade Center attacks, many people assumed that September 11th marked the beginning of America's conflict with Al-Qaeda. It would be several years before people outside of the intelligence community would become aware that the seeds for this conflict were sown many years before the first plane even entered New York City's airspace.

Charlie Wilson's War tells the story of Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), a Democratic Congressman from Texas who was principally responsible for fueling America's covert aid operations in Afghanistan in the 1980's. Pushed by his friend and sometimes paramour Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) to adopt the cause in an effort to undermine the imperialist aspirations of the communist Soviet Union, Wilson spearheaded the funding of covert operations designed to arm, supply and train the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. The project was supervised by CIA operative Gust Avrakotos (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), and ultimately resulted in the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. Some would argue that it also resulted in the political collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

While Wilson was extremely successful in persuading his colleagues to fund war efforts, he was far less successful in securing funding for infrastructure reconstruction and peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the Soviets. It is there that the film ends.

As anyone who has read about the political events leading to the September 11th attacks is aware, history did not end there. A dessimated post-war Afghanistan descended into civil war between American-trained and armed Mujahideen factions. Backed by Pakistan, one group eventually emerged victorious. They were called the Taliban. Under their government, Afghanistan became a safe haven for terrorist groups, and a training ground for a group called Al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama Bin Laden. I think you know the rest.

Charlie Wilson's War is based upon the novel of the same name by the late George Crile, a CBS news journalist who travelled with Wilson to Afghanistan in the 1980's. The novel was adapted into a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, a writer who is no stranger to political drama. Some of you may be familiar with his work on the critically acclaimed television series, "The West Wing", as well as his award-nominated screenplay for, "A Few Good Men".

Sorkin has once again created box office magic with his screenplay for Charlie Wilson's War. He has developed a film that is interesting and compelling from the opening scene to the closing credits.

Charlie Wilson's War is another example of collaborative filmmaking at its best. Every element of this film operates together as a finely tuned machine. Veteran director Mike Nichols (Silkwood, Primary Colors) has carefully guided the film's actors to deliver award-calibre performances. The film editing is impeccable - not one minute of film is wasted. The best compliment that I can give this film is to compare it to the last great political film of the new millenium - Syriana.

As the recent Golden Globe nominations suggest, Charlie Wilson's War is supported by several outstanding acting performances. Every role is perfectly cast. Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts both deliver strong performances (although I will say that neither meets the bar set by their prior Oscar-winning roles). Phillip Seymour Hoffman delivers a performance that is certain to garner him a supporting actor nomination at this year's Oscars. Amy Adams, fresh from the success of her Golden Globe nominated performance in Enchanted, stretches her acting muscles to establish that she is equally comfortable wearing both comedic and dramatic shoes.

Charlie Wilson's War is not a film for people who are seeking an evening of mindless entertainment. It is, however, a compelling historical drama that is well worth the price of admission for anyone who is interested in understanding the world in which we live. It may not change your views on the current military initiatives in Afghanistan and Iraq, but I guarantee that it will cast a different light on the "War on Terror" and will leave you thinking about it long after you leave the theater.

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