Movie Review: Charlie Wilson’s War

Mood: Content

Last Tuesday night saw me visiting the cinemas again to strike another movie off my list. The film on the agenda was Charlie Wilson’s War.

Below is the synopsis:

The true story of how a playboy congressman, a renegade CIA agent and a beautiful Houston socialite joined forces to lead the largest and most successful covert operation in history. Their efforts contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, with consequences that reverberate throughout the world today.

Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) was a bachelor congressman from Texas who had a habit of showing up in hot tubs with strippers and cocaine. His "Good Time Charlie" exterior, however, masked an extraordinary mind, a deep sense of patriotism and a passion for the underdog, and in the early 1980s the underdog was Afghanistan–which had just been brutally invaded by the Russians.

Charlie’s long-time friend and patron and sometime lover was Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), one of the wealthiest women in Texas and a virulent anti-communist. Believing the American response to the Russian invasion was anaemic at best, she prods Charlie into doing more for the Mujahideen (Afghan freedom fighters).

Charlie’s partner in this uphill endeavour is CIA Agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a blue-collar operative in a company of Ivy League blue bloods. Together, the three of them–Charlie, Joanne and Gust–travel the world to form unlikely alliances among the Pakistanis, Israelis, Egyptians, arms dealers, law makers and a belly dancer.

Their success was remarkable. Funding for covert operations against the Soviets went from $5 million to $1 billion annually. The Red Army retreated out of Afghanistan. When asked how a group of peasants was able to deliver such a decisive blow to the army of a superpower, Pakistani President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq responded simply, "Charlie did it."

In my opinion, the cast of Charlie Wilson’s War delivered sterling performances, and I thought Aaron Sorkin did an amazing job with the screenplay. I’m not too familiar with Mike Nichol’s work, but his direction of this movie was very well done – understated and elegant.

Tom Hanks was great as the affable larrikin with the power to change the lives and fortunes of many. I loved the general rapport he had with everyone who shared screen time with him – whether it be with the scintillating Julia Roberts, the superb Philip Seymour Hoffman, the very talented Amy Adams (as Wilson’s devoted administrative assistant), or the girls that formed Charlie’s Angels (Wilson’s staff). I shared in his victories in securing funding and cementing domestic support and international relations, and felt his despair and frustration in being unable to maintain the momentum in his bid to rebuild a war-torn region – in Charlie Wilson’s words, "we f%*&ed up the end game".

Julia Roberts was sparkling as the Texan socialite who engineered the initial meeting between Charlie Wilson and the President of Pakistan. Robert’s Joanne Herring was encouraging and sympathetic, and never came across as preachy or patronising even though the character could so easily have been drawn and portrayed so. Roberts was back to her sassy best in this movie – not as brassy as her turn in Erin Brockovich, but a more mature, smouldering performance.

The stand out performance belonged to Philip Seymour Hoffman. I have loved this guy since Twister, and as with almost every other movie he has been in, Seymour Hoffman stole every scene from everyone in this movie. Everything Seymour Hoffman touches turns to gold – and I look forward to seeing more movies with him as the star.

The surprise package of the season, Amy Adams gave another solid performance, this time as Wilson’s devoted and adoring Administration Assistant. Adams was again easy to watch on screen, and gave an intelligent interpretation of the busy life of an assistant to a high-powered professional.


I loved the mutually respectful relationship between Wilson and Avrakotos, the simmering adoration between Wilson and Herring, and the way the camaraderie developed between Wilson and the people he was trying to help as well as the people from whom he was trying to get the monetary support.

For those of us (i.e. me) who have only recently started taking an interest in modern history and current affairs of the world, this was a good movie in catching a glimpse of how the US government enabled and empowered Afghanistan through the supply of weaponry to defeat the Soviets, and how the US government "f%*&ed up the end game" by withdrawing funding to help rebuild the damaged country.

Continuing the Six Degrees game, from Juno to Charlie Wilson’s War, there are 5 direct links:

1. Michael Cera was in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) with Julia Roberts (I);
2. Jennifer Garner (I) was in Catch Me If You Can (2002) with Tom Hanks;
3. J.K. Simmons was in The Mexican (2001) with Julia Roberts (I);
4. Allison Janney was in Strangers with Candy (2005) with Philip Seymour Hoffman; and
5. Allison Janney was in Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999) with Amy Adams.

And Bacon numbers:

Tom Hanks has a Bacon number of 1.
* Tom Hanks was in Apollo 13 (1995) with Kevin Bacon.

Julia Roberts (I) has a Bacon number of 1.
* Julia Roberts (I) was in Flatliners (1990) with Kevin Bacon.

Philip Seymour Hoffman has a Bacon number of 2.
* Philip Seymour Hoffman was in Savages, The (2007) with Margo Martindale.
* Margo Martindale was in Rails & Ties (2007) with Kevin Bacon.

I’m not seeing a movie tomorrow night – well, not one from the list anyway. Looks like I’ll be taking myself to see The Jane Austen Book Club on Sunday instead – more reviews then!


One response to “Movie Review: Charlie Wilson’s War

  1. Oooh, another positive review for this one, i think this is me and L\’s next movie night out.

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