Wednesday, January 6, 2010

“Charlie Wilson’s War” – I miss “The West Wing.”

I don’t know how it happened, but I’ve seen four government movies over the past month. First, “Burn After Reading,” “Eagle Eye,” and “Breach,” and now “Charlie Wilson’s War.” I haven’t been doing it on purpose; it’s just a strange coincidence between new releases and Netflix. Stranger still, each movie was better than the last, although that’s not saying much when considering the first two movies. Like “Breach,” “Charlie Wilson’s War” is based on actual events that took place in the intelligence community. But unlike Breach, this film did a much better job of mixing the details of the event with the characters that they were trying to focus on.

Before this film came out, I’d bet that there weren’t many people who knew who Charlie Wilson was. I know I didn’t. I’d also bet that even fewer people had any idea that the Russians invaded Afghanistan during the Cold War. At least I knew about that one beforehand. Overall, this movie provided a learning experience for everyone. Luckily, they did it in such a way that it was entertaining and the audience didn’t realize they were learning something until after it was over.

As the title suggests, the film depicts Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson’s role in helping the Afghans defeat the Russians. Wilson worked with CIA agent Gust Avrakotos to figure out what weapons were needed to destroy Russia’s heavy weapons (tanks, helicopters, etc.), how to acquire and put them into Afghani hands, all without leaving evidence that the U.S. was responsible. Even if you aren’t interested in the politics of the event (or any politics for that matter), Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman make this film worth watching. Wilson’s charming character is rounded out by his relationships and interactions with his office staff (all young, attractive females), Avrakotos, and his friend Joanne Herring. Avrakotos’ prickly disdain for his boss (rendered delightfully by Hoffman), and attitude that everyone else is a moron, is the perfect contrast to Hanks’ portrayal of Charlie Wilson.

Additionally, as I saw Aaron Sorkin’s name listed in the credits as a writer on the film, I nodded appreciatively as any “West Wing” fan would. “Charlie Wilson’s War” was adapted from a biographical novel, but Sorkin’s stamp on the sharp, witty dialogue was evident. Fast-paced banter and obvious chemistry among the actors brought life to (what could have been) a tiresome political tale.

As good as the movie was, there were parts that kept it from being great. The most obvious being the terrorism insinuation; that our arming and training of the Afghans – then leaving them once the Russians were defeated – led to the events of 9/11. Maybe this is true and maybe it’s not, but that shouldn’t be the point of this movie. Hollywood just can’t resist taking an underhanded shot at the U.S. government, even when the film’s apparent premise is to praise the government. They also gave us the predictable reason for Wilson taking up the cause; walking through a refugee camp. Seriously? Fighting the Russians and undermining the spread of communism isn’t reason enough? This is why I hate Hollywood. They have to inject their stupid, stock inanities because they refuse to accept that the average moviegoer is smarter than a desk lamp.

That being said, this was a good movie and you should see it if you haven’t already done so. The acting is good (Julia Roberts aside), the characters are entertaining (again, Julia Roberts was lame), and the story flows very well. If that’s not enough for you, just know that you’ll be a little bit smarter when it’s over.

Rating: Only ask for your money back if you hate history.

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