“CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” (2007) Review

 

“CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” (2007) Review

Eleven years ago, I first learned about how a Texas congressman named Charlie Wilson led the effort to drive the Soviet Army from Afghanistan after nearly ten years. I learned about Operation Cyclone from the 2007 biopic, “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR”

Operation Cyclone was the code name for the C.I.A. program to arm and finance the mujahideen in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, prior to and during the military intervention by the USSR in support of its client, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The program leaned heavily towards supporting militant Islamic groups that were favored by the regime of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in neighboring Pakistan, instead of the less militant Afghan resistance groups that had also been fighting the pro-Marxist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan regime since before the Soviet invasion. Operation Cyclone proved to be one of the longest and most expensive covert CIA operations undertaken during the agency’s history.

Directed by Mike Nichols and based upon George Crile III’s 2003 book, “Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History”“CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” began in 1980, when Congressman Charles “Charlie” Wilson (D-Texas) became aware of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan during to trip to Las Vegas. But it took an old friend of his, Texas socialite Joanne Herring, to encourage him to finally get involved with driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan. First, Wilson pays a visit to Afghanistan, where he visits a refugee camp and the country’s leader, President Zia-ul-Haq. Upon his return to the U.S., Wilson recruits the help of veteran C.I.A. agent Gust Avrakotos to help him kick start an operation that would provide aid – food, medical and especially military – to the Afghans. And finding military aid would mean enlisting support from both Israel and Egypt. At the same time, Wilson is forced to face a Federal investigation into allegations of his cocaine use, as part of a larger investigation into Congressional misconduct.

I must admit that I did not have a very high opinion of “TIMELESS” when I first saw it over ten years ago. I honestly did not know what to expect. I certainly did not expect a comedy-drama with a lot of wit and snappy one-liners. Or perhaps I was expecting something a little more . . . intense? Who knows. But looking back on the film, I finally realized that my opinion of it has increased over the years.

I enjoyed how the movie went to a great deal of effort to provide details of Wilson’s efforts to aid the Afghans, especially the Mujahidee (Afghanistan’s freedom fighters). Whether those details were historically accurate or not – I have not the foggiest idea. But I found Wilson’s efforts to find ways to provide aid and help the Afghans throw out the occupying Soviets without the rest of the world finding out about U.S. involvement very interesting . . . and rather amusing. This sequence of events included a rather humorous first meeting between Wilson and his C.I.A. liaison, Gust Avrakotos. Another aspect of the film that I found humorous were Wilson’s efforts to curb his friend Ms. Herring’s patriotic and religious fervor over the program – including one scene in which she bluntly assured her guests at a fund raiser that President Zia-ul-Haq was not responsible for the death of his predecessor, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. For me, one of the film’s most interesting and hilarious scenes featured Wilson’s meeting with both Israeli and Egyptian representatives in order to acquire arms for the Mujahidee – a meeting that included an Arabic dance (belly dance) from the daughter of an American businessman.

Judging from the movie’s Oscar, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations, one could see that “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” was not exactly a front-runner for Academy Award nominations during the 2007-2008 movie awards season Philip Seymour-Hoffman earned the majority of the film’s major nominations. Julia Roberts did earn a Golden Globe Awards, but nothing else. Did it deserve more acclamation? I do not know. Mike Nichols did a competent and entertaining job in allowing moviegoers peeks into C.I.A. policies, Washington and international politics. Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman (as C.I.A. operative Gust Avrakotos) all gave excellent performances. Well . . . Hanks and Hoffman struck me as entertaining and excellent. But I really enjoyed Roberts’ performance as the colorful Houston socialite. It seemed a shame that she was only nominated for a Golden Globe Award. The movie also featured solid performances from Amy Adams, Ned Beatty, Om Puri, Christopher Denham, John Slattery, Ken Stott, Shaun Tolb, Peter Gerety and Emily Blunt.

But if I must be honest, the movie did not give me a charge. I enjoyed it very mcuh. I mean, I really found it entertaining. But I did not love “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR”. I remember while leaving the theater following my first viewing of the film, I had this feeling that something was missing. I do not know. It could have been the unsatisfying ending, which I found to be rushed. It could have been James Newton Howard’s score that seemed too treacly for a borderline black comedy about a U.S. congressman, the C.I.A. and the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan. Or perhaps I found the movie’s ending even more treacly than its score. Either Nichols or the movie’s producers – Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman – lacked the balls to portray the consequences of Operation Cyclone.

I cannot say that “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” was a great film. I do not know if I would regard it as one of Mike Nichols’ best efforts. But I found it very entertaining, thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay, Nichols’ direction and a first-rate cast led by Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman. And if one is intrigued by a peek into American politics during the 1980s, I would highly recommend it.

Advertisements