A Review: Charlie Wilson’s War


A little piece of me died the day that Aaron Sorkin left as writer of The West Wing, and I have ached to return to the well intentioned, sometimes slimy, always thrilling world of Washington as portrayed on the show and so accurately and skillfully by Sorkin. So I was in heaven watching Aaron Sorkin’s return to politics in Charlie Wilson’s War.

This is a fantastic film, and it now enters my top 5 of 2007 along with Ratatouille, No Country for Old Men, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and Juno. One of the great joys of this film as well is the return of famed director Mike Nichols, the director of The Graduateand another of my political favorites, Primary Colors. Again, he does not disappoint in capturing the world of Washington and the depth of his characters, yet in less than an hour and forty five minutes. He deserves an Oscar just for keeping a movie under 2 hours. My ADD and my bladder were grateful.

But then there is the acting … Peter Seymour Hoffman deserves a Supporting Actor nod for an incredible performance. Julia Roberts looks as stunning as ever as the wealthy Texas heiress and Republican activist against the Mujahideen. And then there is my favorite male actor of all time, Tom Hanks. His performance as “Good Time Charlie” Wilson (as we used to call him when I worked on the Hill) is flawless. Hanks nails this character and makes him as real as he is in real life. His acting depicts the charming charisma of Charlie Wilson that kept his district in Texas reelecting him despite his scandals and womanizing, that allowed ethics scandals to roll off his back, and that guaranteed him a good time with the ladies. He hires only beautiful, long-legged, well endowed women to work in his congressional office. He has a scotch or whiskey every day before noon and drinks while he works. The opening scene has Wilson in a hot tube with bare chested women in a scandal that later comes back to haunt him. And this is all true, by the way. It is his character that gives Sorkin the material to write some hilarious lines, and unfortunately, we kind of admire him. He’s kind of like the family member that you know gets into trouble but you kind of admire him because he seems like the only one that is having a good time.

Nichols seems to enjoy films about flawed characters, and especially those characters like Clinton and Wilson who always seem to triumph in their public life despite a questionable or immoral private life. One is left to ask whether this is what we should expect from politicians who offer us public competence but a questionable private life.

Despite his flaws, Charlie Wilson has an integrity and depth to his public service that is unmatched. He visits the refugees and the Afghans displaced without arms by the Soviets, and he returns to Washington with a passion to end the Soviet expansion into Afghanistan by arming the Afghans. He shows intelligence, strategic understanding and political deftness in his attempt to increase military weapons support. But ultimately and tragically his efforts to rescue Afghanistan go to naught as Congress provided them with weapons but failed to provide funding for their schools and jobs, as Wilson also requested. He foresaw the looming disaster of 9/11, and the movie ends with us contemplating how a victory for Good Time Charlie and for the US turned into our ultimate defeat when the Taliban and Al Queda acquired the very weapons we provided for the Afghan liberation.

This funny movie ends on a ironically disastrous note. It’s as if to say, “America, the joke is on you. Your desire to provide weapons but not invest in the building of a country will come back to haunt you. This really wasn’t too funny after all, now was it?”

No, it wasn’t. But Good Time Charlie will assure movie goers a good time while they contemplate a lesson we seem to never learn.

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