Charlie Wilson's War

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Charlie Wilson's War
Review (7.5/10)
(By Brendan Cullin)

Charlie Wilson's War is the true story of a U.S. Congressman (Tom Hanks) who liked his drink and liked his women but he also had a soft spot for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who were displaced by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the early 1980's. The U.S. was supplying the Afghan Mujahideen with about $5 million a year to fight the Russians, which, in the famous words of The Untouchables' Jim Malone, was like showing up to a gun fight with a knife. With the help of a millionaire socialite from Texas named Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) who had significant influence over the dictator of Pakistan, a gruff CIA agent named Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a belly-dancer from Texas, Mr. Wilson was able to shake a few hands, rub a few shoulders and pimp out a couple of belly-dancers and eventually the Afghan freedom fighters were backed by $1 billion in support from the U.S. government. Of course, this was all done off the record and with the help of Israel and Pakistan, as the U.S. did not want American-made weapons to be found in Afghanistan killing Russians. With the help of this U.S. funding, the U.S. training and what was probably more than a billion dollars in U.S. support, the Afghan fighters were able to defeat the Red Army and the Russians left Afghanistan with their tails between their legs. A noble objective indeed by Charlie Wilson, Joanne Herring, Gust Avrakotos and everyone else involved - but sad that this objective was probably never followed through properly and never fully appreciated by the Afghan people. The movie does a good job at pointing the finger directly at the fact that the U.S. wasn't willing to spend the same money rebuilding a war-torn country that was spent on destroying it. The result was a bitter, American-hating Afghan population. There is no doubt that the weapons that the U.S. brought into Afghanistan in the 1980's are the same weapons that were used to kill American soldiers; that the training the freedom fighters received was probably the same training that helped initiate the emergence of the Taliban; and that the Taliban made Afghanistan a haven for terrorist organizations such as Al Queda and its leader Osama Bin Laden. Charlie Wilson's War touches ever so slightly on these points. To be honest, it's probably a whole other movie in it's own right.

Nevertheless, Charlie Wilson's War is a solid movie. The political wrangling in the movie is enough to keep those interested in politics happy. Charlie Wilson sure was an interesting character but it really makes you wonder how a man of his ilk can get elected to office, let alone be responsible for millions, if not billions of dollars. The performances in the movie are solid. Hanks is his usual reliable self and even gets to show off his flabby ass very early in the movie. Phil Hoffman is outstanding, as has come to be expected. The guy simply steals every single scene he is in. Every line is spits out is either humourous or dripping with satirical truth. It's certainly one of the finest performances by an actor or actress that you will see on the silver screen in 2007.

I wouldn't call Charlie Wilson's War one of the best movies I've seen this year but it is worth the trip to the theatre. I sometimes find these movies about American politics a hit or a miss. I think American filmmakers have to realize one thing - not everyone cares about your political history, thus, not all of these political movies will be hits. Civil War movies? Boring. The Cuban Missile Crisis? Pretty boring. JFK's assassination? Very engrossing. I would say that Charlie Wilson's War falls somewhere between the Cuban Missile Crisis and JFK's assassination in terms of interest. It's atrocious to see the amount of money and manpower that not only America but the entire world is willing to put into war, money that could be spent on employment, education and a bunch of other noble objectives. And the loss of life is a whole other story. But it sure is interesting watching the back room wrangling over the billions of dollars that finance these wars. Unfortunately, seeing a bunch of drunk hillbillies with last night's coke party dried up on their nostrils being in charge of this money can be disheartening. Sad too that eventually, one of them came to run the entire country.

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