Charlie Wilson's War does what it says on the tin. It is a film about the maverick Texan Congressman Charlie Wilson (for maverick read drunk on Whisky for twenty four hours a day, and fornicating for all the 24 he wasn't asleep during). The film portrays Charlie, a Texan charmer with a southern drawl, as an instinctually good man: sure he may employ women only in his office because you can teach them to type, but you can't teach them to have tits but only a fundamentalist Christian would object. Sure he may use his power as a member of the Defence Sub Committee for Appropriations with unchecked arbitrariness- but then again he uses it for good. Good ol Charlie has a bleeding heart, underneath the whisky, and can see through the thighs of a stripper to the agonies of Afghanistan. He can see it and once he sees it, he uses every ounce of his corrupt charisma to get Washington to see it.
For Charlie was not merely a maverick, a drunkard, a womaniser and a charmer: he was also the Congressman who took the United States to war in Afghanistan. Convinced by a sexy Texan socialite (played here with Cruella de Vil looks by Julia Roberts) who is happy to fuck him and wear scanty bikinis for him and by a renegade CIA man with undoubted anti-communist credentials, Charlie goes to war in Washington. He faces obstacles- some of the human obstacles (Rudi Giuliani and John Murtha) will be familiar to any students of today's American politics. (Incidentally Giuliani was trying to prosecute Wilson for taking drugs whereas Murtha was a colleague that our Charlie saved from an ethics investigation and so helped our Charlie on the sub committee). Charlie expanded the US covert ops budget in Afghanistan from 5 million to 500 million and set up an alliance spanning Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Just think about that alliance for a moment- as one of the Isreali characters in the movie says- Pakistan has never recognised us, Egypt invaded us ten years ago and every single assassin coming to kill me has been trained in Saudi Arabia!
The point is though that noone is invincible to Charlie's charm- not even General Zia the dictator of Pakistan. Charlie twists and turns through meeting after meeting- calling in Julia's bikini and the smile of a good ol boy doesn't work. And we see in working there on the screen. We see the guns arriving in Afghanistan. We see the missiles coming in. And we see the mujahadeen hitting helicopters with missiles- shocking the Russian soldiers who are sailing oblivious of the work of the US Congressman until their helicopter explodes in a new form of Texan fireworks. Afghanistan becomes a constituency of Texas- we even see Charlie take out a friend from Congress and both of them rouse a crowd the way that they would in Austin. The point is that through intrigue and through battling in Committees you can do as much as any agent in the field.
The history here is simplified beyond belief. There really can't be any question about its accuracy or not- because the reality was just more complicated. Of course the US weaponry ended up in the hands of the Taliban eventually. And the explosions in Afghanistan were a prelude to those in New York and London. Charlie Wilson though it has to be said bears little responsibility for that- he was responsible for funnelling money and not for the overall strategy. Furthermore Wilson wanted the US to reconstruct Afghanistan. To rebuild it and to build schools and hospitals there- for some reason, unexplored in the film, his reconstruction requests fell on stony ground. The old southern charm didn't work so well and it all failed. The film's story is one of triumph- though its tinged with sadness, towards the end of the film many characters make references to what followed- to the failure of the reconstruction effort and the rise of the Taliban. If the film has lessons for today- its in precisely that and for Afghanistan. Afghanistan once again has fallen and once again the world is turning away in frustration- Charlie's lessons still aren't being learnt. We heed his life and live in luxury- we don't heed his efforts to help the Afghan people.
Of course the film is simplistic in its political analysis- but at 97 minutes it could hardly not be. The performances are all good- even Julia Roberts does well here, exploring her evil side. She should take on more of these kinds of roles. Tom Hanks is brilliant- really demonstrating that ability to take on southern charm and give it an extra shot of Scotch. Hoffman is as always excellent and the script by Aaron Sorkin who wrote the westwing is quotable and amusing. This is not a great film- its not up there with such great political films as Citizen Kane or Nixon- but its a very good film and you'll definitely enjoy it. At times it is cloyyingly patriotic but that's the American style and boy does this film have style!
I'd reccomend Charlie Wilson's war- though with this last proviso- no matter how bloody and heroic those battles in committee in Washington were, just think about the battles in Afghanistan. And lets remember this time, we shouldn't desert these people to another round of tyranny- we need to make Afghanistan work and I'm sure Charlie with his hookers and his liquor will be cheering on from the sidelines should we do so.
Crossposted at Bits of News