‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ (2007)

Charlie Wilson’s War’ is a tricky film to write on, because I have both a Proustian relationship with the material and a more generalized, historical appreciation for the the effort that writer Aaron Sorkin and director Mike Nichols have accomplished.

The week before I saw ‘Charlie Wilson’, I had watched ‘ Nineteen Eighty-Four ‘ again, only to discover what seemed to be a waterboarding administered to Winston by O’Brien.

The past is prologue.

Imagine then, my synesthetic confusion when 1983′s chart-topper “Let’s Dance” came over the speakers — all of the props were in place — ‘Charlie Wilson’ is the story of an un-person, Democratic Congressman left out of the public record even as the Republican Party has claimed proprietary ownership of Communism’s defeat. Based on the eponymously titled book by former 60 Minutes producer George Crile, ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ recounts Mr. Wilson’s effort to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan.

In 1984, I was also a junior in high school, choking down Orwell’s complete body of work and fair measure of dystopian British fiction – Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange , Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and a good few Philip K. Dick novels. Even as the year 1984 came and went I wondered if the world that Orwell decribed had, in fact, arrived unbeknownst to everybody alive at that moment.

Lo, and behold, history was re-written before our eyes as it was Ronald Reagan that took credit for ending the Cold War by outspending the Soviet military budget. What has been left out of the ‘official’ history is Charlie Wilson’s role on the front-line of that conflict.

Based on the eponymous George Crile book , ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ recounts the political career of the Honorable Charles Nesbitt Wilson (1933- ), who served in the U.S. Congress for 24 years, spanning the Carter, Reagan, Bush 41 and Clinton Administrations, and served 16 of those years on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, earmarking funds for the CIA’s ‘black bag operations throughout Central America and the Middle East.

No stranger to fast-living, liquor and controvery, Wilson apparently had an epiphany while sitting in a Vegas hot-tub with a pair of showgirls. A consummate public servant, Wilson was distracted from his hot-tub by a 60 Minutes segment , where Dan Rather reported on Russian incursions into Afghanistan. As a fervent anti-Communist, and a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Wilson saw a funding opportunity in the Afghani Mujahideen.

<iframe src= http://cineblog.us/”http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=cineblogus-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=0802141242&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=FFFFFF&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr” style=”width:120px;height:240px;” scrolling=”no” marginwidth=”0″ marginheight=”0″ frameborder=”0″ align=”right”></iframe>Of course, the Mujahideen were absorbed by the forces of light, once Ronald Reagan heard of them, but by that time Wilson (played by Tom Hanks) and his CIA attaché, Gust Avrokotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) increased foreign appropriations for the Afghani ‘freedom fighters’ from $5 million to $750 million a year during the ’80′s. Through Wilson and the efforts of his sometime-mistress, Texas Socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), the US funneled weapons to Afghanistan, creating a Vietnam-like quagmire for the Soviets on the other side of the Black Sea. The billions of dollars that the Russians sank into Afghanistan invariably helped collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War in 1989.

Politics aside, there is actual entertainment to be found in ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’. Rather that take the easy route and lampoon the New World Order pontifications of the Republican Administrations that Wilson served, Sorkin uses the opportunity to make art. Between the progress of the Mujahideen and Wilson’s back-room deals, Sorkin and Nichols have fashioned an old-fashioned Capra -esque movie.

Hanks’ Wilson is a fairly serviceable imitation of Jimmy Stewart , while Roberts seems to channel Barbara Stanwyck in either ‘ Executive Suite ‘ or ‘ Meet John Doe ‘. And just to make sure you know what kind of movie you’re watching, Sorkin and Nichols have peppered their film with numerous door gags, rapid-fire dialogue and a few trademark Sorkin walk-and-talks.

The productive ingredients here are Hanks’ and Roberts’ willingness to play character roles, rather than the soppy, Libtard heroism stuff that they’ve become accustomed to.

This one gets five stars for the willingness to tell a relevant story and the effort they’ve taken to tell it as an old-fashioned Hollywood yarn. Usually such efforts make me suspicious, but in Sorkin’s hands it’s a marvelous piece of restraint.

It’s not always the guy on the white horse that’s the hero — sometimes it’s just the paper-pusher who makes the funds available for the revolution.

Unfortunately, Universal chose to dump ‘Charlie Wilson’ into release four days before Christmas, denying it the attention of the broadest possible audience. But it *is* on the Oscar, Bafta and Golden Globe short-lists and remains in theaters 6 weeks after it opened. Try to see it while it’s still in theaters!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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