Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
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George Crile's 2003 best seller, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, is a fascinating and eye-opening account of the most unlikely "difference maker" imaginable. A relatively obscure Congressman from the Second District of Texas, "Good Time Charlie" was known more for his libertine lifestyle than his libertarian legislation. Likable and licentious (even for a politician), Charlie Wilson served his constituency well since the good folks of Lufkin only really wanted two things, their guns and to be left alone. It's Easy Street replete with his bevy of beltway beauties known, appropriately enough, as Charlie's Angels.
When asked why his entire office staff was composed of attractive, young aides his response is a classic, "You can teach 'em to type, but you can't teach 'em to grow tits." No argument there.
But even the most rakish rapscallion has a conscience lurking somewhere underneath, and for Charlie Wilson the unimaginable atrocities being committed in Afghanistan moved him to muster his entire political savvy toward funding the utter, humiliating defeat of the Russian military and, possibly, to even help hasten the end of the Cold War as a result. Fat chance, huh?
Under the skillful direction of Mike Nichols and a smart, snappy screenplay by Adam Sorkin, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR is a sparkling, sophisticated satire that chronicles the behind-the- scene machinations of three colorful characters comprising "Charlie's Team."
The on-screen "Team," is composed of three marvelous actors with four (4) Academy Awards and nine (9) nominations between them. Charlie is beautifully portrayed by Tom Hanks in a solid, slightly understated fashion that is among his best work in years. He's aided, abetted and abedded by Joanne Herring, a wealthy Houston socialite played by the still-slinky Julia Roberts. Hey, why else have the bikini scene than to let the world know this? By all accounts Ms. Roberts looks good and holds her own, but the screenplay never gives us even a hint why Kabul and country is so important to her character. Maybe the two Afghan hounds usually by her side know -- but we as an audience never do. As for the third member of the "Team," Philip Seymour Hoffman steals every scene he appears in as Gust Aurakotos, a smart, street- wise (i.e. non Ivy League graduate) CIA malcontent who knows the score -- both in the Agency's boardroom and in Wilson's bedroom.
For the Mujahideen to succeed, the most important assistance the U.S. can provide is the ability to shoot down the dreaded MI-21 helicopter gunships which rule the skies. This takes money, lots of money, and eventually "Charlie's Team" covertly coerces those in Congress to fund the effort to the tune of $1 billion dollars for advanced weaponry to arm the Afghan rebels. This includes top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets as well as other highly sophisticated killing devices. Nasty, nasty stuff.
That this kind of multi-billion dollar illicit activity can and does take place behind Congressional doors is truly alarming. Every American should see this movie or read this book because it reveals a truly frightening aspect of the business-as-usual political scene rarely seen outside the walls of our very own government. Oh momma, I wish it weren't so...
Even though the initial outcome for "Team Charlie" was an unqualified success, the unimaginable, unanticipated final result is that these sophisticated weapons are now used against our troops by the Taliban and others. Since the funding was entirely "covert," the young generation in this part of the world has no idea the fall of Soviet oppression and the end to Russian barbarity was the direct result of American intervention. Yes, once the Russkies left, so did our aid -- zip for schools, zip for infrastructure, zip on maintaining meaningful relationships with the Afghan people. As a result, the overall consequence is an unmitigated disaster -- it's like the forerunner to "Mission Accomplished."
As Nichol's film so pointedly points out, "The ball you've set in motion can keep bouncing even after you've lost interest in it." Mike Krzyzewski knows this, Eva Longoria Parker knows this, little Lateesha in Lafayette knows this, but the typical American politician doesn't. So we go from good guys to bad guys because we couldn't let the world know we were the good guys. Talk about a Catch-22 (another Mike Nichols film).
Perhaps Charlie Wilson said it best, "We f&%ked up the end game."
My friend died in that war he was a pilot and I was not happy when I was at his funeral. And this movie doesn't make me happy either it makes me offended by arrogance of Hollywood and US government.
Philip Seymour Hoffman as usual is scintillating and brilliant - here playing a damaged but ultra-smart CIA manipulator, and it is in the exchanges between Hanks and Hoffman's characters where the comedy soars. Rarely is movie humour laugh-out loud and also smart... This hits the spot time after time with a biting satirical edge that makes you both laugh and weep at the state of the world (often simultaneously).
One other major plus is the length of the picture. The film is based on George Crile's fat book of the same title. The temptation for screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (his claim to fame is "The West Wing") must have been to make a fat movie, but what we get is a breath-taking 90 odd minutes of great story with sweeping implications.
This film deserves to be seen and to be recognized for finding an extraordinary balance between the darkest of dark subject matter and the lightness of touch of it's sparkling witty script - even if it does flunk the obvious link between the help that Herring and Wilson provide and the ultimate consequences (9/11).
Mike Nicols holds the entire escapade together, delivering a film that zips along in a very quick 90 minutes (timing is everything in comedy, and nothing is ever funny if it drags). Nicols' choice in sets and lighting are also very reminiscent of '70's and '80's TV, a move used deliberately to root the piece in period.
The return to the use of model work and stock photography over digital special effects also enhances the retro look and believability. Note to the production designers in your choice of stock footage: I know the difference between an F-16 and a MiG, and a Bell and a Hind. But that may have been part of the joke, too.
I saw this film in Philadelphia. It was interesting to watch and listen to the audience NOT get the historical references to their own history. History tends to repeat because the recidivists have forgotten what happened the first time around.
Kudos to both Mr. Hanks and that chameleon Phillip Seymore Hoffman. Sorkin's script is brought to life by these actors, and the entire production team is on the top of their game.
The film is full of entertaining & amusing set ups and cracking dialogue in some of the most unexpected places. The next scene after the Awards ceremony is Charlie in a Hot-Tub with some naked women and a guy trying to get him to invest in a TV programme. Another rather amusing scene is about 3 quarters into the film comprises Charlie, a group of his rather sexy Secretaries, Phillip Seymour Hoffmans CIA Man and a bottle of Whisky. As to dialogue what about this for a line, "The Senator says, He can teach us to type but can't teach us to grow Tits.". OK, School-boyish I know but the film is laced with great lines.
As to performances well Phillip Seymour Hoffman as usual steals every scene he's in. Hanks is OK but surprisingly to me anyway was Julia Roberts who is very good in the role of a rather eccentric Texas Oil Millionairess.
Charlie Wilson's War is one of the best non Musician Bio-pics in a long while as well as being that rare thing a film that entertains, amuses as well as informs all in equal measure.
"It's over!" he shouts, his nymphette secretaries swarming him in joy. "Technically I did cocaine in the Cayman Islands but that's out of American jurisdiction." Yes, it's the slimy lecherous alcoholic politician who just saved his hide on a loophole. Our hero, ladies & gentleman... And what's worse is how director Mike Nichols hid Charlie's crime from the audience in much the same way real politicians hide their crimes from their constituents: delicately-worded dialogue and deceptive maneuvering. It's similar to the way we're asked to find Charlie's whoring adorable because we never see his wife. Out of sight, out of mind... right?
Sorry. I find the character loathsome, mainly because we're asked to consider him a hero. We've come a long way from Mr. Smith's trip to Washington if an adulterous coke-snorting lush is the new Lincoln.
What's even worse about this movie is its political naiveté: There are no "good guys" or "bad guys" in war... it's all a matter of where you're standing. And what's worse, this "war" is nothing more than a product of the United States' profitable wargames pastime: arming and funding a country or cause to fight our wars for us only to turn around and consider said country or cause a threat, at which we point we bomb them to oblivion and rebuild their country using our contractors. Sound familiar? It's just the life-cycle of the military/industrial complex. Hardly heroic...
I didn't have to stay to the end to see where the picture was heading: Hanks becomes a hero by "getting involved" and "saving his soul" and the entire Cold War is brought to an end by a Congressman, a CIA agent and a wealthy Texas socialite.
I usually love science-fiction.
Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is a Texas congressman who is credited with almost single-handedly winning the Cold War. Hanging around plenty of drugs, women and scotch, he also takes an unexpected interest in the events in Afghanistan and the terrors of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Enlisting the help of Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) a renegade CIA covert mission expert and Joanne (Julia Roberts), a wealthy socialite, he raises money to provide Afghanistan with the rocket launchers and antitank weaponry they need to cause serious damage to Russian military. Eventually by the end of the 80s the Cold War would come to an end, and the funds would immediately be cut, thereby removing all help for the fledgling country to rebuild and recoup.
The acting is exquisite, although it's to be expected from the more than accomplished cast. A large part of that however, should be attributed to the script, which allows each character to be undeniably well-developed and memorable. And a hearty helping of that credit goes to the novel of the same name, which is hilariously honest. Tom Hanks delivers yet another unequaled performance as Charlie Wilson, the man who did so much for so many and yet still remains relatively unknown. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Gust, a character that is vividly boffo in both his physicality and his wry cynicism; the inimitable Hoffman once again shows superb range in the characters he portrays. Julia Roberts is perhaps the only weak link of the film, with her generic snobbish character and not-subtle-enough accent. And then there's Wilson's "jailbait" squad of young secretaries that scamper about to keep him happy. Led by the always delightful Amy Adams, each supporting role has its mirthful moments.
Defeating the Soviet Union was not an easy task, especially considering the many conflicting goals between the various political leaders. "Why is Congress saying one thing and doing nothing?" queries a disgruntled politician. "Tradition mostly", returns Wilson. Everyone appears to want the Cold War to end, yet a blind eye is being turned to the atrocities taking place in Afghanistan. It takes a trip to the war-torn refugee camps in Pakistan to motivate Wilson, as well as with his main financial source Doc Long (Ned Beatty). Wilson uses strategic ties with committees to raise funding of weaponry in Afghanistan from $5 million to $10 million with a simple command, but the president of Pakistan scoffs at the idea of winning a war for such a trivial amount. By the end of the Wilson campaign, $1 billion is sent to the Mujahedin to shoot down Russian helicopters - the first step toward victory, as Wilson predicted. Beyond the scope of the film, the unresolved turmoil in Afghanistan led to further, less ignorable problems, which Wilson presumably foresaw.
During the course of Charlie Wilson's War, the main characters travel from the United States to Pakistan to Afghanistan to Jerusalem to Egypt, but wherever they go, sarcasm always follows. There's a surprising amount of comedy in the film, considering the political undertones are generally serious. Hoffman provides jokes with almost every exchange of dialogue, as does Hanks, with his naturally witty woman-chasing ideals. A scene early on featuring Gust being continually ushered in out of Wilson's office as he tries to straighten out a legal issue with his posse of gorgeous gals ("you can teach 'em to type, but you can't teach 'em to grow tits") reminds me of a slapstick routine from the Marx Brothers.
With the press focusing on the drug allegations against Wilson, instead of the important issues of the Cold War, and the conflicting desire of officials to budget their help, it's clear that by the end of the film, the politicians are still oblivious to what's really necessary. And since the screenplay is so quick-witted and astute, some audience members may not be able to keep up with all of the dialogue-intensive events. But, as demonstrated by the politicians who are ignorant as to the difference between Pakistan and Afghanistan, it's essentially another argument to support Charlie Wilson's point.
- Mike Massie
Tom Hanks was incredible as a small-time Texas Congressman whose constituents only wanted lower taxes and to keep their guns. Not a hard job, so he had plenty of time to fool around - and that he did. His office staff looked as if he were at the Playboy Mansion. Like he reportedly said, "You can teach them to type, but you can't teach them to grow tits." Despite his sexist attitude, which fits right in with a Texas Congressman, they were fiercely loyal, especially his aide, Amy Adams (Junebug & former Hooters girl).
Now, add a rich Texas socialite who wants something done in Afghanistan, played perfectly by Julia Roberts; and a pain-in-his-boss's-ass CIA agent, superbly done by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and you have a movie well worth watching.
Outstanding writing, and superlative acting, and a story that needed to be told. What more do you want at the movies?
Although certainly not a serious Oscar contender for Best Picture, 'Charlie Wilson's War' is probably one of the best of the many political films of the year. Academy Award Winner Mike Nichols provides solid directing as to be expected while Emmy Award Winner Aaron Sorkin (Sport's Night, The West Wing) provides a remarkable screenplay that near-flawlessly balances comedy and drama. The acting is great for the most part as well. Tom Hanks delivers his best and most enjoyable performance since his 2000 Oscar-nominated turn as a FedEx worker stranded on a tropical island in 'Cast Away'. Hanks takes a slimy character like Wilson and with his trademark charm turns him into a likable guy. Amy Adams and Ned Beatty are reliable as always, but the real stand-out performance of the film is from Philip Seymour Hoffman. Arguably the finest actor working in the film industry today, Hoffman takes a small supporting role and upstages everyone around him. From his first scene where he's screaming at his boss before violently breaking his window, Hoffman sucks you in. The only disappointing cast member is unsurprisingly overrated Hollywood starlet Julia Roberts. Hamming her way through yet another movie, Roberts' overbearing and over-the-top portrayal of a rich Texas oil woman hits all the wrong notes and is at most times flat-out annoying. At 97 minutes, the movie is short and sweet, and that isn't to say it doesn't drag at some points but when it does drag it's for a very brief amount of time.
In conclusion, 'Charlie Wilson's War' is not a perfect film by any means, but it's certainly worth a look. Grade: B+
The film does 1 thing right it demonstrates perfectly what is wrong with the American politics. The motto seems to be to f**k with whoever it takes to get things done!!! Mix an American Congressmen, a CIA agent, a Jew and an Arab... just to f**k the Ruskies. Thanks to US for giving us Osama Bin Laden.
The disappointment of the film comes in the face of muddling up the issues: using imagery of Afghan children with no arms and the stories of soviet atrocities and then making a blatant attempt to suggest a link between those and the reasoning behind the American help. Every sensible person knows why the $1,000,000,000 was raised... not the dying Afghani children that's for sure.
As usual the serious issues are covered into facade of bullshit dialogue. "Here is to you, you M***r F*****s" Hoffmam chants at the end, all that's missing is the American flag in the background and the stupid military solutes. The films can not help but leave the aftertaste of the feeling of American pride and glee on how we (the Americans) have saved the world... once again. Not even the last 5 minutes of the film can save it, where an attempt is being made to stop praising yourself and wake up to the fact that its just another American F**k up.
The acting and editing was good though.
How could the time frame leave out the real history that while ridding Afganistan of the Russians the CIA was providing support for the Taliban, and today's World of Terrorism. In 1990, Bin Laden went home to Saudi Arabia as a hero of jihad, who along with his Arab legion, "had brought down the mighty superpower" of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
To avoid any connection to Osama Bin Laden is to say again, Hollywood cares little for Historical Truth. Charlie Wilson, a patriot, hardly, more like a congressman gone amok.
WHAT A DISAPPOINTMENT!!! Sadly enough, what it all boiled down to, is a disgusting display of American/CIA propaganda, obnoxious American self-righteousness and total lack of respect for human life.
Frankly, I lost the count of how many times the characters in this movie shout out things like: "Kill the Russians!!!", "F*kc the Russians!!!" etc. Soviet army is portrayed as a gang of blood-thirsty butchers, specifically hunting down Afghan children to molest, disfigure and kill them in the worst way possible.
To say that this movie is just a fiction of some sick and twisted mind, is not to say anything. The propaganda content in this movie is so high that even Goebbels would be impressed.
I sat through the whole movie, waiting for some kind of twist, a moment where the director would display his ability to actually think clear, a moment that would show the real consequences of the atrocities committed by CIA and Charlie Wilson. But I waited in vain. This moment never came. It was like having a never-ending nightmare.
I felt literally sick after watching this movie. I realized that I just wasted more than 2 hours of my life on one of the worst movies ever made. What made it even worse, is the high rating of "Charlie Wilson's war" at IMDb, as this indicates that there are pour souls out there, who actually felt for this fraud, swallowed the poisonous propaganda, without even realizing that they have been scammed and damaged for life.
Unfortunately I began to notice a distinct void in the proceedings. Where I expected political commentary I found emptiness, where I expected satire I found only flag waving anti-communist propaganda that should have been put to bed 20 years ago.
The scene with the two soviet pilots discussing their own indiscretions, briefly painting them as immoral, before they are shot down and given what they deserve. If this was satire, it was far to subtle for me, it seemed to be from the 'commando comic' school of script writing. War films, nowadays, should not be giving us two dimensional characterisations of the enemy.
Long lingering looks at the traumas of the Afghans suffered under the soviet invasion, how does this relate to the men of power and money in Washington and are they really trying to tell us this was ANY part of their decision to provide so much financial aid. Lies about booby trapped toys for Afghan kids, perpetuating soviet myths 20 years after they are relevant, do we really need to be doing this now.
There is so much macho dialogue and warmongering in this film that the crux of the plot line is practically ignored. Who cares if they 'fucked up the end game' when Seymour Hoffman, can say 'fuck em' to the commies at the end of the film.
A film can be be found wanting in any single element and I would still give it a good rating. This film has great acting, characters, dialog and a wonderful sense of time and place. It is severely lacking backbone, however, and despite the best intentions of its subject matter, I cannot see past that. For days afterwards I told myself, it was just a very clever satire, but there is only so long I could keep spinning that line to myself. The film is a militaristic wolf in a lefty liberal sheep's clothing.
Also, neither Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts are particularly believable in this movie. Tom Hanks as a corrupt, alcoholic Texas Congressman? I don't think so. Julia Roberts as a rich Texas Southern Baptist trying to sound like a female Lyndon Johnson? I don't think so. If the movie works for you, fine. But any movie that rags on the Russians is just missing the point. Russia is not the enemy, and while they were involved in Afghanistan, neither was the Soviet Union.
Whose idea was it to make the incredibly beautiful Julia Roberts look like a grotesque, overly made-up, two-bit hooker?
Does Charlie Wilson EVER stop drinking?
By the way, I wonder how we would like it if certain radical groups were located right across our border. In 1962 we were ready to start a nuclear war over the presence of missiles in Cuba, and Cuba doesn't even border on the United States. So why should the Soviet Union have acted any differently? And now that we have troops and helicopters in Afghanistan, do you think the Russians are now willing to help us?
But seriously now . . . do we really want a movie that repeatedly says "let's go kill some Russians!" like that's the greatest thing a red-blooded American can do? And are we supposed to find this congressman adorable because he surrounds himself with women with big hair and revealing clothes? Even his supposedly smart assistant, who is always dressed professionally, keeps looking at Charlie like he's just the most wonderful, handsomest, greatest guy around. As if she's Nancy Reagan to his Ronnie. Julia Roberts does a bang-up job in her role, but basically women are really demeaned in this movie, and it was really annoying.
Julia Roberts and tom hanks give a GREAT performance, and i would have liked them if their intentions would have been honest. but there is that "something", which makes me believe that their names were used to make this look human and funny, and i wont be surprised if their paychecks were bigger then usual for this specific roles. Julia Roberts especially portrays one of the most dangerous, behind the scene, reality ; that of mixing politics and religion. true that the screenplay trays to put her character aside but just in "that" typical manner of actually giving it even more power to this specific faith based groups she represents. for some reasons it feels like the screenwriter condones the "positive" effects Inquisition has had apparently in the past. oh my...
tom hanks is sinking lower and lower in my opinion, simply capitalizing too much lately on his name as a "serious" drama actor ever since "castaway"("the terminal" was his last outstanding role for me).about his acting here, at time it seems that himself is not comfortable with the role he HAS to play because his sarcasm seems to be that of an actor knowing his own "lies".
from the point of production, there are many flaws and somehow they feel to me as intentioned (convulsive plot with convenient misses) in confusing the viewer and give him an idea that this could be too "complex" for him to understand.
overall , just be aware of the implications given here; while entertaining from a sarcastic point of view, this is not at all what was advertised as would be.
I could rant on for several paragraphs about the way Charlie Wilson's War glosses over history, morality, legitimacy and so on, but I don't think any such rant could outweigh the gushing of Aaron Sorkin fans. The rest of you, beware.Spend your movie money elsewhere.
Still, if you're looking for a pithy comment, here's mine. You can put hot fudge sauce on a pile of garbage, but it changes nothing. Garbage is garbage and so is Charlie Wilson's War.