A Losing Battle

6 Dec

I didn’t really think I was going to like Charlie Wilson’s War. After all, I’m sort of over the whole “Tom Hanks Is Holier than Thou” thing, and I can’t get too excited about Julia Roberts anymore either.

Plus, I’m skeptical of a major studio movie that’s billed as Oscar bait based on pedigree alone.

But I’ll admit, Hanks is real good here in the true story of a Texas Congressman with questionable ethics, and he won me over. And generally, I was entertained by the movie, which documents how Charlie Wilson raised money — $1 billion annually — in Congressional funds to support Afghanistan in its war with Russia in the 1980s. (Those are your tax dollars at work, folks!)

Afghanistan was underarmed and the Soviets were overpowering, and without the type of guns and missles that could take down helicopters, the Afghans basically had no chance. Of course, this was during the Cold War, and at the time, Russia was our enemy, so of course, we sided with the Afghans. And because he was such a big factor in the Afghan freedom fighters eventually defeating the Soviets, Charlie was branded a hero.

How times change. And therein lies the movie’s greatest problem, and why I ultimately don’t like it. How are we supposed to root for this guy Wilson when he’s the one who basically armed Al Qaeda? This mission of his seems awfully selfish and misguided, and that makes it really hard to take the guy’s side. And if you can’t root for Tom Hanks in a movie where he’s supposed to be the hero … well, that’s a problem. Wilson may be charming, but he’s not even likable.

Further, Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay really doesn’t explain what motivates the guy. When we first meet Wilson, he’s in a hot tub in Las Vegas next to three naked strippers. And yet, his attention is on the TV, where Dan Rather is reporting from Afghanistan. (Hmmmm … naked strippers in a hot tub or Dan Rather. Which one would you choose?) Wilson’s a real bastard, a guy who exerts his power by showing off his Texas-sized boots and who calls his buxom team of aides “Jailbait,” and yet audiences are supposed to believe he’s concerned about the plight of the Afghan people halfway around the world? Especially when his major supporters are Jews, he says, who think he supports Israel. Even played by Tom Hanks, this guy has character flaws.

And also, I feel like the film is so slick that it makes the events, true though they might be, seem too easy. There are some good jokes about the futility and stupidity of our government, and yet Wilson, a nobody Congressman, was able to transform $5 million in support for Afghanistan into $1 billion and unite Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan to work together and supply the actual weaponry for Aghanistan? The guy’s a frickin’ miracle worker. Why isn’t he involved with the peace talks?

So what’s good about the movie? Well, in spite of the above, Hanks is good and quite watchable. So is Philip Seymour Hoffman, as a CIA case worker who teams with Wilson to aid the Afghans. Emily Blunt’s half naked and looks great. And the film doesn’t exactly ignore Wilson’s part in at least sowing the seeds of U.S. resentment in Afghanistan … but that part of the story is given a real brush-off at the end, even if the last frame is of a quote from Wilson (the real guy) saying “Those things happened and they were glorious, and then we fucked up the end game.” (On his site, Jeff Wells says this was played up more in earlier drafts of the screenplay. There was even an epilogue that takes place on 9/11 that I think would have made the film better.) I think more should have been made of Wilson’s role in our current situation, rather than celebrating his “accomplishment.”

So, I can’t exactly support this War, and I’m going to give it a C+.

2 Responses to “A Losing Battle”

  1. John March 15, 2008 at 6:36 pm #

    I think what you find fault with in this movie, ironically, is the whole point of why the movie was made. Quoting Charlie Wilson at the end is not a “brush off,” it is a culmination of the irony that’s been building through the whole film. Sorkin and Nichols had not forgotten about 9/11 when they made this movie, and while they made a big-budget movie that cheerleads a congressman who out of idealism funds opposition forces in Pakistan, they had firmly in the back of their mind what the “end game” will be. They told a typical parable in our country’s history, spending billions to send in big guns to fight the bad guys, and then losing concentration when it’s time to ensure the peace. You don’t have to like Charlie Wilson’s character to understand the Zen parable.


  1. Mercy Mercy Me | Martin's Musings - November 24, 2020

    […] I know I’m not exactly the target audience for Larry Crowne. The film’s definitely geared more toward people like my parents, and they will love it. That’s not a bad thing. I mean, despite all I just said, this isn’t exactly a bad movie. It’s definitely better than the trailer made it seem. Hanks exudes a winning charm, as always, and even though the love story between him and Roberts’ character (whose name is Mercy, by the way) seems forced and contrived, the two have a nice, easy chemistry together. It’s always enjoyable to watch Tom and Julia on screen, despite your resistance, whether they’re alone or together (as with Charlie Wilson’s War). […]

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