How quickly can things change in the span of a generation. In the late 1980s, America and Afghanistan were bonded by the covert battle between the Mujah Hadeen and the Soviet occupiers (they did the fighting, we did the supplying of arms). Without U.S. support, the "freedom fighters" would likely have lost more lives over a much longer fight that may or may not have ended in jubilation. When the Russians pulled out, so did U.S. interest in the region and twenty years later we’ve got the misguided, mismanaged Iraqi War as this generation’s Vietnam War staring us all right in the face.
Charlie Wilson’s War is the story of the covert effort of a few people in government, a few concerned citizens and a small group of CIA agents who built the framework of economic support and weaponry backbone of the Mujah Hadeen so they could repel the Russians. While the film likely uses a lot of shortcuts and simplifications to tell the story (I have a hard time believing it was this easy), it does it in such a quick witted, pleasing way, it makes a tale about covert war look almost fun (although it omits the sting of the aftermath of the Taliban/Osama Bin Laden/ongoing boondoggle to our own imagination).
Charlie Wilson’s War is the latest film to combine a political element to the current state of influx and war in the Middle East. Where the other films failed because they were too dour, self-serious and preachy (Lions For Lambs anyone?), this one attempts to resist those elements. Charlie Wilson’s War has a message to deliver if you want to think about it for a second or two, it just doesn’t browbeat you over the skull with it, unlike those earlier films in the past year.
Another difference between those earlier releases—Charlie Wilson’s War has got stars like Tom Hanks sipping whiskey with topless strippers in a hot tub, Julia Roberts slowly emerging out of a pool in a bikini and more one liners than you normally expect in a politically centered movie. Those things can’t hurt its entertainment factor.
Everyone knows I’m a huge Philip Seymour Hoffman fan and watching him in this is a must for fans of his. Practically every line he delivers in this is a clipped, blunt one liner that shows evidence of the man’s unbelievable comic timing. If he’s in the scene, he’s taking it away from Hanks/Roberts. While those are two of the most charismatic actors of the last 20 years, Hoffman has as much screen presence as they do. His robust mustache doesn’t hurt (take that Titus Welliver!).
Amy Adams, coming off her star making turn in Enchanted, also is winning as Wilson’s loyal assistant, picking up the pieces of the debris and fallout of his personal life. Wilson has his flaws—women, booze and the possibility of even a little bit of cocaine use (this was the ‘80s after all)—but Adams is the one steadfast person in Wilson’s ultimately lonely life.
Charlie Wilson’s War, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Mike Nichols, was a bit of a surprise. Its subtle political message, full of barbs and one-liners, was appreciated, as I couldn’t stand the idea of another heavy dose of lecture from filmmakers. Letting the audience draw their own conclusions is always the right tact for a film to take as I like to think I’m smart enough to connect the dots and figure out the message for myself.