Charlie Wilson's War

Charlie Wilson's War


Reviewed by: Chris

Good political comedies often touch raw nerves. They often have a left or right wing agenda. Look at Wag The Dog, or Dr. Strangelove. But what surprised me about Charlie Wilson’s War (at least the version that reached cinemas) is that it manages to advance the core values of both.

As the film was released, political heavyweights John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were squaring off in the race for the White House. McCain was caught singing, “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” to the tune of Barbara Ann. Ill-advised humour perhaps. I thought of it in the frequent Charlie Wilson’s War refrain, “Let’s kill some Russians.”

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But where McCain’s joke was about invading a sovereign country, Charlie Wilson’s War is about defending one. A massive covert operation, described in the film, pushed back the Soviets (not Russians) from their 1980s occupation of Afghanistan. It was one of the major factors that enabled Reagan to end the Cold War. An excellent example of the right wing belief in the supreme importance of military strength.

On the other hand, the film points out the failure to re-establish schools and so on after the Soviets left – an aim more traditionally promoted by the left. One cannot help but think that right and left philosophy working effectively together could not only have a) saved the Afghans from the bloody Soviet invasion, b) avoided the power vacuum that was filled by the Taliban and led to Al Qaeda training grounds, c) protected the vital geographical and potential mineral resources and d) even reduced the chance of 9/11.

This is rather wishful thinking of course, but not totally impossible. National strength can go hand in hand with humanitarian work.

Veteran Director Mike Nichols perhaps had a more left-wing approach in mind initially. But it has come out surprisingly balanced, even if it over-simplifies matters (as does this review). Nichols fulfils his stated aim of prompting people to think. And this more effectively than partisan productions such as the right-wing 24, the left-wing Fahrenheit 9/11, or “conversion” movies such as In The Valley Of Elah.

Tom Hanks is Charlie Wilson, a pork-barrelling playboy of a congressman whose greatest achievement is getting repeatedly re-elected. Julia Roberts oozes intelligence and sexy charm. She gets Hanks into bed and into Afghanistan. Between them they rope in such unlikely partners as Egypt, Israel and Pakistan. This provides more pointed humour as long-standing religious and political impasses are finessed. Hanks gets the arms to the Afghans.

A fantastic story in reality is made even more fantastic in a movie, with equally fantastic performances by Hanks, Roberts and a host of other stars. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a scene stealer as an antagonistic, obnoxious, but highly skilled CIA agent. He gets things done but remains cynical about whether any lasting good is achieved.

There have been other thought-provoking political films recently – Lions for Lambs, for instance – but many of them lacked the clout to demand top audience figures. Charlie Wilson’s War doesn’t fail there. It is witty, held together by a director still at the height of his powers, and is a thoroughly entertaining, sexy, and challenging comedy for intelligent adults.

Reviewed on: 12 Feb 2008
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Charlie Wilson's War packshot
A well intentioned US congressman gets out of his depth trying to help the Afghans repel Russian invaders.
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Read more Charlie Wilson's War reviews:

Jennie Kermode ****

Director: Mike Nichols

Writer: Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by George Crile.

Starring: Tom Hanks, Amy Adams, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Terry Bozeman, Brian Markinson, Jud Tylor, Hilary Angelo, Cyia Batten, Kirby Mitchell, Ed Regine

Year: 2007

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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