Charlie Wilson’s War
Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is
having a rollicking good time.
As the Congressman from an East Texas District that expects
nothing of him, because they like low-profile government, he is free
to party his way through his uneventful term.
We meet him in a hot tub in Vegas, where he is sitting with
some men and women friends, none of whom have on any clothes, and
everybody is drinking. Somebody
is talking to Charlie about maybe helping one of the playful girls
with some television opportunity, but Charlie isn’t paying too
much attention. He’s
distracted by seeing Dan Rather on television in a turban.
It seems he is reporting from
, where the Soviets have just invaded.
Charlie’s inebriated stupor is interrupted just long enough
for his political brain to kick in; hey, it’s the 1980’s and the
Communist Soviets are at war? Somewhere
in the limo ride back to the airport, somebody might be doing some
drugs, but Charlie doesn’t pay much attention to that, either.
Despite his storied profligacy, he does take some things
Returning to Charlie’s
, we find that his Congressional office more closely resembles a
Hooters bar: there are
always attractive young women in arresting outfits, and drinks are
always served. Yes, he
fortifies his morning coffee with whiskey.
And yes, he makes politically incorrect remarks about the
attire of his (all-female) staff.
But just because they’re good-looking doesn’t mean
they’re dumb. They
watch his back, politically, because he trusts them with the
important work, when few others would.
They’re loyal to him, especially his chief aide, Bonnie
(Amy Adams), even though she still fetches drinks for him.
They all band together and figure out how to handle the
sudden press report about illegal drugs being taken in the presence
of a U.S. Congressman. Charlie
himself seems unperturbed about all this uproar over his personal
morals, while he flies to
to attend a fund-raising party hosted by a wealthy out-of-District
contributor named Joanne (Julia Roberts).
Joanne knows exactly how to play Charlie:
seduce him and then pillow talk him.
She, too, is concerned about helping the Afghans fight the
Soviets. (It plays into her personal political philosophy, but she
also enjoys being influential behind the scenes.)
Charlie returns to
determined to raise the covert operation allotment, from 5 million
to 10 million (only a pittance, but one step at a time).
She persuades him to add a trip to
to his upcoming visit to
, to which he readily agrees. Why
not? But then when he
is stonewalled by the diplomatic station chief there, it raises his
political hackles, and when he tours a refugee camp, it sears his
he returns to
and tries to find out the details of what the CIA is doing to help
the Afghans fight the Soviets, he asks for a Deputy Director but
gets a flunky operative named Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour
Hoffman), who has just incurred the wrath of his boss by telling him
off publicly. Twice. So
we have a lightweight, low-ranking Congressman and an irascible
out-of-favor bureaucratic wonk, but they are on the same side, and
they make a synergistic pair.
They want to figure out a way to get the proper
weapons to the Afghan rebels. It
takes awkward diplomatic visits to
, and again to
, accompanied by Joanne and another Congressman (Ned Beatty), to
finally arrange for Soviet-made SAM portable launchers and anti-tank
weapons to be delivered by mule across remote mountain passes, but
somehow, together, they manage.
And it dramatically turns the tide of the War.
The rest, as they say, is
history: The Soviet
Union was bled dry during its long, costly struggle to pacify
. The U.S.S.R. crumbled
shortly thereafter, and then the Berlin Wall fell.
The Soviet hegemony was over, and
good-ol’-boy Charlie Wilson played an important part in it.
The covert ops people gave him their highest award granted to
a civilian, but Charlie Wilson was frustrated at the end:
he knew that the Afghan people desperately needed funds for
rebuilding schools and other infrastructure, but there just wasn’t
any political will for it. Charlie
Wilson thinks that the
lost a great opportunity to make a powerful
ally. And he was
probably right about that, too.
Is it 5 o’clock somewhere?
I loved this movie.
It’s smart, sophisticated, endearingly human, sufficiently
complex, interspersed with humor and irony, features fine
performances from A-list actors, and best of all, it’s practically
a true story.
Questions for Discussion:
Would the Middle East situation be
different today if the
rebuild after their war with the Soviets?
Charlie Wilson tells the story about
how he fell in love with
when he was only 12, when he helped defeat a local politician who
was responsible for killing his dog.
What event in your life has made you love
When have you been underestimated, and
proved your detractors wrong?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor,
Grace Presbyterian Church,