Monday, July 19, 2010

Charlie Wilson's War

Charlie Wilson's War; satire / drama, USA, 2007; D: Mike Nichols, S: Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams, Om Puri, Emily Blunt, Ned Beatty
Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson is somehow fascinated by the Soviet-Afghan war in the 80s. His love interest Joanne Herring encourages him to do something about it. He flies off to Pakistan and meets president Zia-ul-Haq who persuades him to visit an Afghan refugee camp. Horrified by the human misery, Charlie contacts CIA operative Gust Avrakotos and asks him what weapons should be able to match the Soviet ones. After it, he lobbies and pulls all the connections possible to increase the secret US support for mujaheddin fighters against Soviets from 5 million $ to 1 billion $. After the defeated Soviets leave, the US makes no effort to help rebuild Afghanistan.

An extremely political film, Mike Nichols' 21st feature length film, "Charlie Wilson's War" is a satire in which those "off stage games" by the politicians - who want to achieve their goals by persuading others to follow them - come to full expression. In this case, where the title hero managed to assure 1 billion $ of US help for the mujaheddin resistance fighting against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, naturally equipped with a black ending - the first sequence, where Wilson gets a medal for his efforts, is also the final one, but whereas it seems idealistic at the start, after all the events seen, that identical sequence turns out almost cynical at the conclusion of the film. The film needs some 30 minutes to "get rolling", but once it starts rolling it completely fascinates all the viewers who are interested in such rare insights of power structures - only few would dare to say some things that were said here.

Basically, whenever Philip Seymour Hoffman (playing CIA operative Gust) is on the screen, the film is excellent, while the rest may seem rather shaky and strange, especially with Tom Hanks' performance that needs some time to get use to, yet for such a brave adaptation of a true story by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin based on the book by George Crile, this film deserves praise. In one great little satirical moment, Charlie and Gust are sitting with a Jewish politician Ziv, trying to persuade him about their idea. He replies with: "You want me to steer Israel towards an arms deal with Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia? They don't even recognize our right to exist, we just got done fighting a war against Egypt, and everyone who has ever tried to kill me or my family has been trained in Saudi Arabia!" And then Gust replies with a cold comment: "That's not true, Zvi. Some of them were trained by us." In another sharp scene, Charlie says this small sentence to Joanne: "But Congressmen are not elected by voters, they are elected by contributors". The sequence where Representative Doc Long has a sudden change of mind after seeing the Afghan refugees and holds a momentum-building marathon "good vs. evil" speech to them is also fantastic, all adding to a clever little film. Hoffman was nominated for an Oscar, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe.


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