In Primary Colors (1998), director Mike Nichols put on display the sexual addiction, casual lies, arrogance, and feelings of entitlement of a Southern Democrat running for President. Charlie Wilson's War is in a similar vein. It's a clever, funny, and fast-paced satire with a very inventive screenplay by Aaron Sorkin based on a bestseller by George Crile.
Here is a behind-the-scenes look at the outrageous political shenanigans of Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), an alcoholic Texas Congressman who calls his staff of buxom office secretaries "jail bait." He is pulled away from the pleasures of Washington, D.C., by Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), a Houston socialite and avid Christian Right Winger. She has a project for him. Calling the Soviet presence in Afghanistan "the greatest national security threat since the Cuban Missile Crisis," she wants Charlie to get more money and weapons to the Afghan rebels, the Mujahideen. She has connections with people in power around the world and is convinced that with U.S. help, the Afghans can defeat the Communists and the end the Cold War.
Herring sets up a meeting with Pakistani President Zia (Om Puri) in Islamabad, but Wilson almost blows it by asking this Muslim for a drink of whiskey. He also is harassed by Zia's military advisors who condemn the inadequate financial and military support coming from the West to their Afghan brothers. The Pakistani president arranges for Wilson and Bonnie Bach (Amy Adams), his pretty aide, to visit a crowded Afghan refugee camp where they see firsthand the dire effects of the war on the poor people of that ravaged country. Wilson's heart goes out to these suffering civilians, and he returns to Washington determined to do something. Soon he is calling in favors and using his clout on the Defense Appropriation Subcommittee to get the budget needed to supply the Afghan resistance with the weapons they need to destroy the Russian helicopters and tanks. The biggest challenge to his efforts is that this military aid can't look like it is coming from the United States.
Enter Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an unconventional and uncouth CIA operative who finds a weapons expert and miraculously pulls off a cooperative venture between Israel and Pakistan for Soviet-made arms. Avrakotos's maverick style contrasts and complements Wilson's good-old-boy political machinations. Everything looks in jeopardy when drug charges are brought against Wilson and prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani presses him hard in a federal investigation.
Charlie Wilson's War reveals the way things are done in Congress with lots of wheeling and dealing and talk of America and God being on the side of the good. It implies that whereas the U.S. support of the Afghan rebels led to the Russian pullout, which in turn contributed to the end of the Cold War, things were not over yet. The United States didn't bother to continue the aid to win the peace, and the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan.
This political drama is both funny and sad as it covers another chapter in the folly of the crusades against "evil" nations (first the Russians and then the Islamic Fundamentalists). Top drawer performances by Hanks, Roberts, and Hoffman give the movie its considerable panache and clout.
Special DVD features include "The Making of Charlie Wilson's War" and "Who Is Charlie Wilson?"