Saturday, April 26, 2008

Charlie Wilson’s War: Grade A

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams, Ned Beatty. Director Mike Nichols.

Hanks is Charlie Wilson, a real Texas congressman in the 1980’s who sat on several important committees and was able to surreptitiously get funding to supply weapons to Muhadjadeen in Afghanistan who were fighting off the Russian invasion of 1980. Hoffman is a CIA analyst whose goal is to “kill Russians” and he facilitates Wilson’s scheme. Roberts is a wealthy, Christian, anti-communist Texas socialite (and sometimes dalliance for Wilson), who throws fund-raisers so Wilson can get re-elected and carry out the plan. The plan was enormously expensive but the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988. As the movie ends, Wilson cannot get funding to rebuild the country. Hoffman reports that the victorious, well-armed Afghan chieftains are moving to Kabul to take over the government, but nobody in congress cares about Afghanistan any more, if they ever did.

The movie is more enjoyable if you know recent history in the Middle East. That also lets you in on many of the wicked jokes. But even if you don’t know history, this movie could almost be called a comedy because the script is so consistently clever and witty. Hanks delivers his best acting in a complex, nuanced role. Hoffman is fantastic and I wanted to seem more of him, but it wasn’t his story. Roberts was cute and funny in her Texas bouffant wig.

It’s a funny and serious story at the same time. If there is a message, it does not try to hit you over the head like Lions for Lambs did but presents a subtle anti-war conclusion, because despite the enormous cost and effort, what was really achieved? If the Russians had prevailed in Afghanistan, it would have been for only 10 years until the empire broke up anyway. Did the war drain their treasury and contribute to the break-up? Maybe so. Maybe we should take a lesson from that in our own time.

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