Congressman Charlie Wilson from Lufkin, Texas, a ruggedly handsome man, who was a committed anti-Communist, with a few character flaws, who loved to have a good time, enjoyed alcohol and was a ladies' man ... became one of the unsung heros of the Afghanistan War. He was the only civilian to ever receive recognition and honor by the C.I.A. for his part in helping to drive the Russians out from Afghanistan. This film is based on the true stories written by the author George Crile in his book, "Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times". Essentially, there are two formulas to win this war on a global scale: the first is, "money + power = secret arms deals" and the second is, "clandestinely obtained weapons + motivated Afghani fighters = success". Serendipity often comes into play when success occurs on a global scale and Charlie Wilson seemed to benefit both from the unexpected and unknown ...
Charlie Wilson was sitting in a hot tub at Caesar's Palace with three young ladies, two of whom were strippers, and some male business partners, when he first saw Dan Rather on assignment in Afghanistan, presenting the plight of the mujahideen. Dan Rather described the difficulty they had fighting the Russians who had superior technology and arms. When he returned to Washington, he read the teletype from API, UPI, and Reuters and asked the C.I.A. how much was in their budget for clandestine operations in Afghanistan. He was told $5 million dollars, he quickly told them, "double it" [Charlie Wilson happened to be on the Senate Appropriations Committee]. From that point forward, Charlie Wilson was committed to helping free the Afghanistan people from Russian control ...
Tom Hanks does a superb job in playing the role of Charlie Wilson. At some point, he was contacted by Joanne Herring (played to perfection by Julia Roberts) who is a wealthy socialite from Texas who recently became a 'born again' Christian. She knew President Zia, the Prime Minister of Pakistan and arranged for Charlie Wilson to meet this Pakistani leader. He pled his case that the Afghanistan fighters needed better weapons to fight the Russians. He wanted the US to provide weapons *but* wanted Parkistan to control their distribution. More than 1/5 of the population of Afghanistan had escaped across the border to Pakistan and lived in squalid conditions due to the war with the Russians. At another point in the film, Charlie Wilson had a visit from Gust Avratakos, a rather independently minded C.I.A. agent [which got him into hot water with his superiors] ... who also had a stake in helping free Afghanistan. These two unlikely partners dealt in secret deals and meetings with an Israeli weapons and arms agent. They obtained the needed Stinger anti-aircraft missles for the Afghani fighters to use against the Russian bombers which turned the war around completely. At some point in the film, Charlie Wilson had gotten political and economic support from Doc Long, another Senator who had strong religious beliefs. He committed his total support to Charlie Wilson's position in this war.
While Charlie Wilson may be viewed as a flawed hero, he and Gust Avratakos single-handedly provided the weapons and arms needed by the mujahideen to win the war against the Russians. Amazingly enough, as time passed, the 10 million dollars initially committed to this clandestine venture turned into $500 million dollars. Few men can fund a pet program and spend money of this magnitude and get away with it. This film does a superb job of presenting the circumstances and particular events which showed how the nearly impossible became reality. In many ways and on many levels, the film presents events in too much of a simplistic and entertaining fashion, for which I deduct one star. No doubt, the book is more thorough and complete in providing the complex details which led to the success which Charlie Wilson and Gust Avratakos achieved. Nevertheless, this is a most enjoyable and well done film. Erika Borsos [pepper flower]
on February 22, 2009
Mike Nichols was not unaware of the irony in Charlie Wilson's story. Late in the film he has Philip Seymour Hoffman, in the character of Gust Avrakotos, recite a story on the balcony of Charlie's apartment. "Listen, not for nothin' but do you know the story about the Zen master and the little boy? There was a little boy, and on his 14th birthday he gets a horse, and everybody in the village says 'How wonderful, the boy got a horse.' And the Zen master says, 'We'll see.' Two years later the boy falls off the horse and breaks his leg and everybody in the village says 'How terrible' -- and the Zen master says 'We'll see.' Then a war breaks out, and all the young men have to go off and fight, except the boy can't because his leg's all messed up and everybody in the village says 'How wonderful...'" and Tom Hanks (as Congressman Wilson) completes the story, "And the Zen master says 'We'll see.'" Avrakotos: "So you get it?" Wilson: "No, no I don't 'cause I'm stupid."
But Nichols isn't stupid, and he knows his audience isn't either. Charlie Wilson armed the Mujahideen against the Soviets, allowing a ragtag band of freedom fighters to defeat and ultimately destroy a mighty empire of invaders.
And everybody at Charlie Wilson's victory party is saying "How wonderful."
I knew next to nothing about the events depicted in this film prior to watching it. It is a real eye opener. Charlie Wilson's War is based on a true story. It is proof that, in this country at least, one caring, determined man can make a difference to the world.
This is a fast paced story, based on real events of the early 1980s. Essentially, Texas' colorful 2nd District US Congressman, in just 7 years, enables Afghanistan to be the first country to defeat the Russian Army, signaling the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
This film has an outstanding cast, all of whom deliver strong, believable performances. Tom Hanks is true standout, playing Charlie Wilson to a tee, depicting him in full-blown real life with all of his flaws and foibles, as well as his patriotism, big heart, determination, and guts. Julia Roberts is excellent as a wealthy Texas society woman who is used to getting what she wants. Philip Seymour Hoffman truly amazing as the CIA agent on Charlie's side. His comic timing is superlative, making you laugh out loud. Amy Adams is beautiful as always as Wilson's much put upon administrative aide. The entire supporting cast is top notch.
The script is just plain fantastic. It teaches us as well as being extremely entertaining. The dialogue is interesting and witty, and it rings true. The story is told with a host of emotions from plain amusement to sheer horror. The viewer becomes invested in this story and these people.
I highly recommend this film. You will enjoy it, and you will learn a little history.
It's amazing what a few committed believers can do. In 1979, Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), a good timin' Texas Congressman finds Dan Rather doing a remote report in war-torn Afghanistan more interesting than a hot tub full of gorgeous naked women, drugs, and booze.
Next thing he knows, the sixth wealthiest woman in Texas and his sometime lover, Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) invites him to a fundraiser. She's a bit right of center for him, but he goes--for the sex as much as anything probably.
He comes away with a mission. Start a war. If the US can arm Afghani rebels, they can stop Soviet encroachment into the Middle East--which would probably have ended with the Russians owning most of the oilfields and us out in the cold--quite literally.
"Charlie Wilson's War" is based on the true story of Texas' 2nd District US Congressman who literally did initiate the clandestine help the US gave the Afghani rebels. He, with a little help from his friends, increased the budget for help for these efforts from 5M to 1B within a 7 year time frame enabling the Afghanis to be the first country to defeat Russia and effectively end the "Cold War."
"Charlie Wilson's War" is by far the best film I've seen this Christmas season and I would not be surprised if it didn't win Oscars for picture of the year. Tom Hanks does an amazing job as the flawed man, who was a true patriot and humanitarian. Ms. Roberts does the over-the-top Texas heiress just right. Also, no surprise that Philip Seymour Hoffman blew us away as the rogue CIA agent, Gust Avrakolos.
The soundtrack, by Toto alumnus James Newton Howard, was the perfect accompaniment to the visuals. Mr. Howard has a way of picking just the right song to illustrate a time, emotion, or place. That CD is on my Wish List now.
The movie took you on the gamut of emotions from amusement, to horror, to suspense. How they managed to so succinctly cover almost a decade worth of machinations in an hour and a half still amazes me.
I wasn't the only person amazed. It seems several couples who'd come out of the film decided to eat at the same restaurant and the talk about "Charlie Wilson's War" was appreciative all around.
I'm definitely buying this DVD when it becomes available and possibly will see the movie one more time before it leaves the big screen. This one is definitely worth a second watch.
RARELY CAN A SERIOUS MOVIE BE THIS FUNNY AND STILL SOMEWHAT FACTUAL -- A MOVIE WITH SURPRISINGLY GREAT WIT! ***see notes on historic context below if you're interested***
Let me first caution everyone to apply just a tiny grain of salt when viewing any Hollywood movie based on true events. However, this one does a pretty good job. It depicts the true life involvement of U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson in expanding the US budget for support of Afghan rebels during the Soviet involvement. This was a critical and dramatic chapter in the Cold War that affects the later history of the 20th century and beyond. That may not sound interesting to some viewers, but let me tell you, this movie has moxy and mirth at every turn. The characters have such natural wit that it can entertain even non history buffs.
THE PLOT (no spoilers): Texas Congressman and notorious playboy Charlie Wilson (a liberal Democrat but hawkish on foreign policy) becomes interested in the Afghan plight after seeing a news report. He sits on the house appropriations committee with the ability to affect flow of funds to entities like the CIA in order to supply better weapons and training to fight the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The movie depicts his endeavor working with a CIA case officer, weapons specialists, a wealthy female right wing advocate and other members of congress. All are united in their fervent hate of communism. Charlie will need his exceptional skills in "horse trading", as well as his personal charm, to win others to his side and cause something truly momentous. His charm is matched with the surly disposition of CIA Case Officer Avrakotos. Both have a biting wit. Though some accents are a little exaggerated, generic southern (not Texan), and some scenes are a little melodramatic (particularly the combat involving attack helicopters), the spirit of Charlie's personality is quite faithful. Tom Hanks is more than token star power. He actually looks a bit like Wilson at that age. Hanks' accent was only a little exaggerated, Julia Roberts a little more so. She does make a very interesting character though. The verbal tête à tête between Wilson and almost every other character is hilarious! It's all done with a straight face. This is not a comedy. It's just that good! Verbal fencing occurs in almost every scene and the visit to Pakistan was a highlight for me as he spars with Pakistani officials.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT: (no political statements, just information)
.....DID AFGANISTAN WIN THE COLD WAR?: That statement by itself is way too simplified. It is a critical chapter in a much bigger story. There were independence movements going on in Soviet States before Afghanistan, an untenable arms race against the west that outspent them, over half century of crushing economic policy, and a new generation of leaders embodied by Gorbachev that wanted to end the cold war. However, it is fair to say that Afghanistan is that proverbial "straw" on a very overburdened back. For those labeling the Soviets "occupiers", it's important to remember that the Taraki led government had a treaty with the USSR for protection and actually called on them for support. Initially that support was begrudging. After the coup led by Hafizullah Amin which deposed Taraki, they still called on the USSR for help in the north, though the new regime was somewhat anti Soviet. Russia had military involvement in Afghanistan going back to Tsarist times and the "Great Game" against Britain. The problem is that the actual people of Afghanistan were overwhelmingly against the atheist ideology and a brutal suppression was underway by the Afghan government against it's own people to curtail some religious practices and political opposition. So much of the populace would consider them occupiers.
.....DID U.S. CREATE BIN LADEN AND THUS RESULTING TERROR ATTACKS?: Another huge topic, but here's what to consider - The repression in Afghanistan already had a religious context. The foreign fighters from Saudi Arabia and other places were also drawn specifically by the idea of religious jehad. There was an idea of "America next someday" that already existed. So much money and arms were poured into the region that it isn't as relevant whether Bin Laden was supported directly or indirectly. Most opposition groups, including his, would get resources one way or another. How we interacted with Afghans afterward might have influenced history. But that history is written now and it's hard to speculate if it could have gone differently. The fact is, we were there so we get some ownership of the problem. A weak government was left after Soviet withdrawal, allowing the Taliban to take power. Whether we could avoid the terrorist attacks later is a question history is still exploring. As someone with experience in that region, I am not convinced we could have avoided them by avoiding the Soviet Afghan conflict. We didn't create the genesis of that extremism. But certainly they fixated on us later and our actions create a certain variable.
MOVIE ACCURACY: I already mentioned the faithfulness to at least the spirit of Charlie Wilson's personality. The accusations of cocaine use, investigations by Juliani, the hot tub scene in Vegas (minus the TV news report I believe), all happened. Charlie's alcohol use was more detrimental to his personal life and those around him than the movie depicts. But he deserves the place in history the movie and book suggest. It is also interesting that he openly acknowledged his foibles, rather than pretending to be a family man in public and then playing differently in his personal life. I don't know if you can call that admirable, but it's a trait that many hypocritical politicians on either side could never claim.
on January 17, 2012
Charlie Wilson's War is an outstanding, five star film. However this Blu-ray disc is a non-letterboxed, grainy and all around poor transfer that only approaches the quality of the DVD. Very disappointing. Hopefully a pristine Blu-ray will be released, but for now this one should be passed over.
What is it about watching really smart people doing smart things while we in the audience--with benefit of 20/20 hindsight--know they are out- smarting themselves? Are we smug? Could we do better? I think I will want to own the DVD just for the pleasure of watching all those smart people doing all those smart things...smirk...
In the meantime, this movie has a LOT to recommend it. Great stars, starting with hard-drinking, womanizing, mildly corrupt Congressman Charlie Wilson himself, played by Tom Hanks ("The Da Vinci Code" and "The Terminal"), playing off the great, great Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Savages" and "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead") cast as an angry operative who spent three years learning Finnish only to be assigned elsewhere. Hoffman actually has most of the funny lines. Those two guys did a spectacularly looooong single take, walking side by side, verbally sparring, strategizing and generally conducting Business As Usual in the approved Washington DC manner. Purely from an acting point of view, I haven't seen a single take that long in years! This was how they made movies in the old days: rehearse an entire scene and then shoot it from beginning to end. Performances these days are cobbled together in the editing room, but these two war horses showed the neophytes how it is done! I was dazzled!
The logic of what Charlie Wilson was trying to achieve was beyond reproach...arm the Afghanis so they could fight the Russians for us without providing arms that could be traceable to the United States. They cobbled together an unholy alliance among erstwhile Middle Eastern foes, by using a combination of coercion, bribery and smooth talking. In the approved arc of government funding, they took an initial $5M budget to $500M and watched as Afghani foot soldiers, finally armed with adequate (Russian) weaponry, brought down Russian aircraft and destroyed Russian tanks.
Julia Roberts ("Notting Hill" and "Erin Brockovich") is the glamorous (but not attractive) Texas socialite who initiates the scheme. She seems to be having a ball with her character's over-the-top clothes and jewelry, her big Texas hair, and her twang; spouting Baptist rhetoric and seeing her original meddling brought to official fruition. She and Hanks take turns fondling each other's tush as they exit their scenes.
Amy Adams ("Enchanted" and "Talladega Nights") is Congressman Wilson's able assistant and I was excited to see Emily Blunt ("The Devil Wears Prada" and "Dan in Real Life") as a constituent's daughter, but her character went nowhere.
A word to the wise, this movie has implied drug use and its share of nudity in the hot tub at the very beginning...up to and including Mr. H himself (but he'd better not quit his day job...).
This script is witty and full of dazzling minutiae (Un-clumping mascara with a safety pin? The names and calibers of various guns? Did Attorney General Rudy Giuliani ever nail Wilson?). 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I had to admit to myself that had I been in the same situation, I would probably have done exactly the same thing and would have felt really good about it...right up to the time when I DIDN'T.
The Zen koan is excellent.
on October 18, 2009
Political films are some of the hardest in Hollywood to pull off smoothly. Either the subject matter is too controversial, it paints someone in too positive/negative of a light, or it flat out messes with history to fit a dramatic tone. "Charlie Wilson's War" suffered from none of these problems, yet still managed to underwhelm due to a completely unexpected source: it couldn't decided whether it wanted to be gripping, or a farce.
Basically, this movie tells the story of U.S. Senator Charles Wilson, who (during the Soviet-Afghanistan conflict) was so inspired by the courage of the Afghan troops in fending off the Russians that he launched a covert "campaign" of sorts to get the Afghans the funding/weapons they needed to defeat the spread of Communism from the Soviets. As history bears out, Wilson succeeds in this task and is regarded as a hero...at least for the time being.
This entire film could have taken (and would have been much better off, in my opinion) a more serious tact to the political issues being dealt with, like the lack of funding to an Afghanistan "military" that was essentially fighting the Soviets for the United States, or the fact that Afghanistan went on to produce the terrorists that perpetuated 9/11 and we are now fighting. This approach could have been a great sort of dramatic "treatise" on those issues and could have made people really think about them.
Unfortunately, the film does not take that sort of tone, and instead focuses on the character of Charlie Wilson. While obviously at the center of all the goings-on, this prolonged focus on Wilson's personality and private life only served to drag the film down. Plus, all the characters (but essentially Tom Hanks' Wilson and his lady-friend played by Julia Roberts) seem way too over the top in their interactions with each other and the plot at hand. I realize the intent of the filmmakers, which was to show what a maverick Charles Wilson really was, but to me that wasn't the most interesting part of the story.
Thus, "Charlie Wilson's War" is a respectable film dealing with an interesting political event, yet views those happenings through a prism (the crazy Wilson) that isn't altogether engaging. While the focus on the Afghan-Soviet conflict is refreshing (not just World War 2 or terrorism), it isn't played for the type of drama that could have occurred. Involved political minds will find it interesting, while lesser scribes may drift off as the message gets lost in Hanks' over-the-top portrayal of Wilson.
on December 4, 2015
This movie is hands-down one of my all time favorites. It features an absolutely star-studded cast of performers, who execute their characters time and time again throughout the film.
Tom Hanks stars as Charlie Wilson, the vivacious United States Congressman from Texas' 2nd Congressional District. He is joined by Julia Robers, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and a pre-mad men John Slattery. The movie focuses on Charlie Wilson's efforts to fight the communists that are destroying Afghanistan by championing consistent rises in the CIA's covert operations budget.
While the movie is based on a true story, and a very serious one at that, the star cast in this film keep the punches rolling.
on June 2, 2008
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tom Hanks are great in just about everything they do. And this movie was interesting, but it's certainly not even close to the best movie of the year.
Watching the covert war being built up and fought for by Charlie, despite his personal character flaws, was interesting. But the leaps this movies makes by saying it's our fault for Afghanistan's problems is flawed.
The movie (Charlie) makes the assumption that because we didn't pump millions into Afghanistan after the Soviets pulled out that we messed up, and inadvertently caused them to hate us, ergo they fly jets into our commercial buildings.
If that's the case, where are all the Vietnamese terrorists?
And Julia Roberts was a very minor character in this movie. I think the trailers compiled 90% of her screen time to make it look like she was walking around in a bikini the whole movie and speaking with a bad Texas accent. She played a very minor role and really they should have given that role to a better and cheaper actress. All she did was act like an older version of Erin Brokovich - but she basically plays that in all her movies.
THis was an okay movie. I bet the book will be better.