January 21, 2008

Cold War on the Rocks

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Charlie Wilson’s War is a very good movie. The overarching message is an important one, and especially pertinent to our time, as we reap the benefits of having ignored Charlie Wilson (and good sense). It is inspiring, but tempered with reality (it is based on a true story, after all), enough so to make the movie rather depressing at the same time. It was unexpectedly and refreshingly funny.
Charlie Wilson’s War explores the impact of an unconventional and relatively unimportant politician who organizes a covert war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the early ’80s. Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), a hedonistic Texan congressman, sees firsthand the devastation wrought upon the country during his visit to an Afghan refugee camp and discovers a cause worth campaigning for. Nearly single-handedly, Wilson provides the Afghans with the money and the means to defeat the Soviet Union, and the communist super power is driven from the country. This is the inspiring part. The end of the movie, while equally powerful, is the depressing part, and implies that the current state of Afghanistan resulted largely from the US government having ignored Charlie Wilson, and his few devoted associates.
Tom Hanks impeccably captures the simultaneous arrogance and humility of the congressman, conflicting character traits that nevertheless allow him to care about the cause and get something done. The character is very believable, and, if you’re interested, shows off his ass on camera. Julia Roberts, as Wilson’s southern-belle-turned-activist inspiration also does a good job portraying this incredibly self-assured woman, though the effect of Julia Roberts as a southern aristocrat seems somehow odder than that of Tom Hanks as an unconventional politician.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is perfect as Wilson’s fiery and cynical CIA connection. You can imagine the actual man looking and acting exactly as he is rendered in the movie. In fact, you can imagine this throughout a good portion of the film, though Wilson’s various secretaries are rather ridiculous (yet also quite amusing). Hoffman provides the basis for a good portion of the film’s sarcastic comic relief. At the same time, his humor rings cynically, and sadly, true. Last but not least, Amy Adams does a convincingly admiring, yet principled, secretary.
Montage is used effectively (take that, Team America) to show the jubilation of Charlie Wilson’s group and the freedom fighters themselves, as they continue to win important skirmishes against the Soviets. These scenes switches continually between filmed segments of Charlie and his entourage and authentic archive footage obtained from the BBC, highlighting the vastly different conditions that the politicians and the Afghanis live under.
On the whole, this was quite a good movie, both entertaining and serious, with a message to our government about following through on its actions, and seeing through not just the actual fighting but the whole nine yards, which I hope very much will be heeded.
Certainly this is a movie for those who care about making a difference, a sobering reminder that in order to affect real change, those who have the power must also have the vision.