Movie review: “Charlie Wilson’s War”

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) is a drama based on the true story of Democratic Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson during the time of the Cold War (1940s to 1990s), as told by George Crile in his book, Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History (2003).

The story is set during the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan. This was a a nine-year conflict (from roughly 1978 until the Soviet’s withdrawal in 1989) between the Soviet military (which was supporting the government of the Marxist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) and the Mujahideen resistance (who were being funded and supported by various countries, including the US, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan).

Congressman Wilson (Tom Hanks) is persuaded by Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts with a Texan drawl) – the sixth wealthiest woman in Texas, and probably the most gorgeous – to take an interest in the fate of the mujahideen in Afghanistan. They hook up with volatile and dead-pan Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Smith), an unconventional CIA operative, to launch a covert operation to supply weapons to the Afghans. Charlie is persuaded to visit President Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan, who urges him to visit the refugee camp in Peshawar (Pakistan) so that he can see at first hand the devastating impact of what the Soviet military is doing to the people of the region.  

Charlie, Joanne and Gus manage to motivate a congressional subcommittee for covert operations to increase funding to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, to arm them with the weapons they desperately need to shoot down the Soviet helicopter gunships and blow up their tanks. All of this, of course, has to be done covertly.

And Tom Hanks as Charlie is just so brilliantly deadpan and disarmingly honest that it’s not surprising that he gets away with all of it.

The CIA’s anti-communism budget, which is essentially used to fund the war against the Soviet invaders in Afghanistan is increased from US$ 5 million to over US$ 2 billion by the end of the movie. Ironically, though, when Charlie asks for for a mere US$ 1 million to build schools in the country after the Soviets have left, because over half of the population of the country is under the age of 14, he is turned down.

Clearly, money is available to ‘wipe out the enemy’, but not to rebuild the country. Disturbing parallels to the current US war in Iraq?


Other movies we’ve watched in July:  

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