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                                                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 Afghanistan , 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 seriously.  Like national security. 
Returning to Charlie’s Washington , 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 Houston 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 Washington 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 Pakistan to his upcoming visit to Israel , 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 conscience.
 When he returns to Washington 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 Egypt and Israel , and again to Pakistan , 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 Afghanistan .  The U.S.S.R. crumbled shortly thereafter, and then the Berlin Wall fell.  The Soviet hegemony was over, and Texas 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 U.S. lost a great opportunity to make a powerful Middle East 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:
1)                            Would the Middle East situation be different today if the U.S. had helped Afghanistan rebuild after their war with the Soviets?
2)                            Charlie Wilson tells the story about how he fell in love with America 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 America ?
3)                            When have you been underestimated, and proved your detractors wrong?
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas