At the beginning of Charlie Wilson’s War we’re told the movie is “Based On A True Story.” I always wonder what that means. Is it “pretty much” based on a true story? Is it “barely” based on a true story? Oliver Stone’s JFK has Vice President Johnson conspiring with the Mafia to take JFK out. That movie was “based” on a true story, but it’s pretty much conspiratorial fantasy.
I wonder just how true Mike Nichols’ film about the U.S. helping the Afghan Mujahadeen against the Soviets in the 1980s really is. Regardless, it’s a pretty good story about how an affable boozer of a Texas congressman, named Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), teams up with a renegade CIA agent, Gust Avrakatos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), to provide FIM-92 Stinger missile launchers, which are used to shoot down Russian helicopters that are attacking the Afghan warriors.
We first meet Charlie in a scene where he is settled in a hot tub with some exotic dancers. It’s clear that Charlie is a good ole boy with lots of friends. He knows everybody. Charlie is a skirt-chaser, and he’s chasing Joanne Henning’s (played by Julia Roberts) wealthy Texas matron’s skirt. Joanne’s into causes, and Afghanistan is one of her causes. Charlie is reluctantly persuaded by her to go to Afghanistan, and following a horrific trip to a refugee camp, Charlie is transformed from dilettante to patriot.
He sits on Congressional committees that give him this unique position to influence Cold War history, and he seizes it-with the help of his CIA buddy Gust. The movie hints darkly that the failure to rebuild Afghanistan after the Soviets leave will have ominous consequences. Good-bye Lenin. Hello bin Laden.
Now the acting here is first rate. Tom Hanks is his usual winning self. His romantic scenes with Julia Roberts are a little weak, but that’s mainly because she’s not nearly as good as he is. Per usual, Philip Seymour Hoffman is the best thing about the movie. His acerbic, smart-assed CIA agent is perfect. This guy is really good. Capote, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead-movie after movie, he’s on the money. Aaron Sorkin has written a crackling script. Oh I almost forgot, my new girlfriend Amy Adams (so good in Enchanted) is great as Hanks’ congressional assistant, but I must admit I’m prejudiced, her being my new girlfriend and all.
So when all is said and done, we don’t really know how much of Charlie Wilson’s War is true. I kind of doubt that this unimportant Congressman brought down The Evil Empire, but it’s a good story nonetheless. Everyone likes to see the little guy win.