I was lucky enough to have a WGA friend get me into a screening of Charlie Wilson’s War that had a talkback with writer Aaron Sorkin afterwards. Sorkin’s work you probably know from the play and screenplay A Few Good Men and the TV show West Wing among others. He’s a great writer, and Charlie Wilson’s War only further burnishes his reputation.
It tells the rollicking true story of womanizing congressman Charlie Wilson, whose alliance with the CIA helped create a covert war against the Russians in Afghanistan. The movie is more about Charlie Wilson than his war. (Director Mike Nichols opts to show the war mostly through poor-quality stock footage. It doesn’t hurt the movie, but I think the low-budge feel of it will keep it, undeservedly, from Best Picture Awards.) Charlie Wilson is played with an unreliable Texas twang by Tom Hanks, who uses Sorkin’s excellent dialogue to create one of the most memorable screen characters of the year. Supporters Julia Roberts, as wealthy evangelical commie-hater Joanne Herring and Philip Seymour Hoffman, comically disguised as a Grecian-American guido, more than hold their own against Hanks. Hoffman especially blew me away in the long farcical scene where he first meets with Hanks’ character and both alienates and wins him over. Look for all three stars to get nominations.
Continue reading about Charlie Wilson’s War (no spoilers)…, Sorkin said he was very careful to hew close to the facts. The movie does hint towards the rise of the Taliban, but never mentions Osama bin Laden who, Sorkin said, technically didn’t arrive in Afghanistan until three months after the main events of the film. Sorkin had met the real Charlie Wilson (charming, had a way with the ladies even in his old age) and the real Joanne Herring (“frankly, I found her to be a nutjob — but it’s better for the movie if she’s an equal to Charlie”). Sorkin praised his research assistant, who untangled the chronology of events from the book, which is a rather dense piece of reporting involving interviews with people all over the world — and not at all structured like the final screenplay. The only major cut in the script and film, he said, was a denouement sequence that was a downer, pointing out just how bad things got in Afghanistan after the mujahedin expelled the Russians.
What I wish I had asked him about, is that in some ways the film’s conclusion seems to support ‘staying the course’ in a foreign country in which the US has intervened — say Iraq. Sorkin was coy about his politics, saying his only alliance is to telling a good story.
He’s certainly done that. Charlie Wilson’s War is often funny, always entertaining, and, knowing what we now know about Afghanistan, poignant. Big recommend.