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Karen

Lance, I've not seen the movie yet (nor read the book at all), but it was recommended to me by a friend, to whom I just sent the link to this column. In response to your line, "That tragic irony is entirely missing from the movie," she maintains that that tragic irony WAS the point of the final 5 minutes (which, I'm assuming, are the newsreel footage you described).

I dunno, of course; I'm just passing this along.

Sherri

I just read the book and then watched the film. I enjoyed the book, though it had its flaws and wasn't an incredibly nuanced piece of history. But I summed the film up for my husband as "Soviets bad, Afghans brave, Charlie Wilson gets brave Afghans Stinger missiles so they can shoot down Soviet helicopters." I think many movies are way too long these days, but this was a story impossible to tell in an hour and a half. If you hadn't read the book or weren't really well versed in that war, I don't know how you were supposed to understand what was going on.

Hoyt Pollard

The role of weapons expert Mike Vickers was almost completely neglected. Crile's book gives the impression that his ideas turned the tide. The movie gives him one scene. Skip the movie, read the book.

Ian Gray

God, this movie irritated me.

You would think that if there were an event in the past thirty years or so lending itself to a nuanced, shades-of-grey examination of American foreign policy, the funding of the Mujaheddin would be it. Defeating the Soviets was a necessary goal, and defeat in Afghanistan was one of the things that brought the USSR down, but at the same time you have the horrible problems inherent to arming the enemies of your enemies, as well as all the tragic ironies that the movie could have dealt with.

Instead, we get Aaron Sorkin's usual glib paean to the greatness and nobility of America.

As you note, Lance, the movie focuses on-and whitewashes-the paymaster of the whole operation, because he doesn't actually do anything that anyone might think is wrong, skipping over the CIA guys actually directing the money and weapons. I'm sorry, but I'm not going to buy a pro forma, hastily tacked on last five minutes of people talking about how some of the freedom fighters are actually sort of nuts as any sort of real examination of the unintended consequences of arming the Muj.

I'll admit that my dislike for this movie has an idiosyncratic and irration base, at least in part; my Russophilia was perhaps at its least defensible here. But I resented, strongly, the mis-translating of the Russian pilot's dialogue to make him look as black-hearted as possible; while I've no doubt that Hind pilots talked about their women problems and dehumanized Afghans as they flew, the implication that this was some sort of weird callousness inherent to the Soviets (or more broadly, non-Americans) infuriated me.

That was a bad winter for maddening movies; Charlie Wilson's War was actually not the most irritating movie my Dad and I saw that week. 3:10 to Yuma was in a class all its own...

Hoyt Pollard

Please don't get me started on 3:10 to Yuma. I hope The Assassination of Jesse James is better.

Dan Leo

Thanks for the heads-up, Lance. I'm getting so sick of wasting my time on big-budget "quality" Hollywood pictures that wind up annoying the hell out of me (yes, I do mean you, 3:10 to Absurdity). On the other hand a bunch of 1950s westerns just came out on DVD. And I'm working my way through the fabulous 6th season of Curb Your Enthusism; and 30 Rock and The Office still rock. (Thank Dog for TV...)

KC45s

Thanks for saving me two hours or so of my life. If the movie really does this to the book--and what you say doesn't surprise me--I have no interest. Mike Nichols isn't the most overrated director out there, but boy, he has a claim.

Buzz

I just saw "Charlie Wilson's War" last week and enjoyed it. I did not expect it to be anything more than what it was, a main stream movie with big name actors aimed at a broad (and uneducated) audience.
There's no way a normal length movie could have addressed more than about one of your criticisms or accurately portrayed the complexities revealed in the book.
I think that the most you can expect a movie like this to accomplish is to introduce the viewer in an entertaining way to people and topics that, if the interest is there, can be pursued further by doing research or reading the book. That's how I took it.
If you want to talk about a travesty look up the transcript for "The Charlie Rose Show" of a month or so ago where he interviewd the real Charlie Wilson who was plugging the movie.
The rise of Bin Laden and the war in Iraq were not even mentioned.

Buzz

Lance
The video of the Charlie Rose interview with Charlie Wilson can be viewed for free at the Charley Rose Show website. It's in the archives and dated 4/24/08.
Bin Laden was briefly mentioned but the fact that we are now fighting in Afganistan was not. It's like those events from long ago have no relation to the world we currently inhabit. I'd be interested in your reaction to this interview. I think it was criminal.

sfmike

We have a new movie superhero who's an arms merchant, for chrissakes, so why not gloss over this bit of history? It's not like those Muslims actually matter as human beings, a theme that commercial Hollywood (and its New York counterpart in Mike Nichols) continues to propagate. They really should be ashamed of themselves.

rose

Like Buzz, I enjoyed the movie for what it was. It was a great film to see, as I did, on New Years Day.

I may read the book now, prompted by your post, and I'll definitely check out the Charlie Rose interview. But I don't think either will change my view of the movie...entertaining with big stars spouting quick dialog. In no way a documentary (nor was I looking for one).

john clayton

Without Philip Seymour Hoffman this movie would have been unwatchable. Hanks can't play a JackNicholson-20-years-ago rogue, and Roberts is lost. The real Herring and Wilson on the DVD extras are far more lively and entertaining than the stars trying to portray them way back when.

And Lance, you're dead-on about what the movie missed. I'd read the book and kept talking back to the screen, asking for nuance; my wife had not read the book but was even more vocal.

Though I do think PSH's anger legitimately channeled Gust. See the review on salon.com

ajay

Nichols drops him and Hanks, pretty much, and finishes off his movie with montages of long, repetitive, sub-titled newsreel footage.

Would that it had been newsreel footage. Instead, Nichols seems to have decided to cut costs by using any old "aircraft blowing up" footage he could find; with the result that among the aircraft shown blowing up in the montage are, very obviously, a US UH-1 Huey helicopter and a US F-16 jet.

And it was soundtracked with a disco beat remix of 'And he
shall purify' from Handel's 'Messiah'? What the hell?

Yes, Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Gust Avratokos' War" would have been terrific. But he can't open a movie, he's too lumpy.

Steven Hart

The continuing high esteem for Nichols and Sorkin baffles me. The only film of his I can stand is "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf," in which he simply got out of the way of the material and let Albee's writing do the work. "The Graduate," the basis for his fame, is smug, glib and infuriating. Whenever I watched "The West Wing," I thought I'd accidentally tuned in to the rehearsals of some high school drama club. I liked "Charle Wilson's War," the book, enough to know the movie should be avoided, sight unseen.

Ralph Hitchens

Isn't George Crile the guy behind CNN's off-the-rails disaster, "Operation Tailwind?" You sure we can rely on him to get it right about Charlie Wilson?

James Wolcott

From everything I've read and heard, Nichols pretty much left the cast to their own devices in his direction of The Country Girl (now on Broadway), each actor appearing trapped in his or her own air pocket. I once tried to tiptoe out of a production of Comedians ages ago that Nichols directed, only to find him at the bottom of the balcony stairs taking notes. I couldn't bring myself to walk out of a play past the play's director (I was once at a Wally Shawn evening--a couple of one act plays--where the audience streamed out in the middle of the second play, not knowing or caring Wally was sitting in the last row), so I tiptoed back up to my seat and put up with Jonathan Pryce's bellowing for another twenty minutes. Anyway, Nichols probably takes on a lot of money projects he shouldn't take on to keep his Arabian horses fed.

Kim

I couldn't pass up the opportunity to post after James Wolcott.
We watched this flick (seems a more appropriate term than film) last night and I was not impressed.
I was also irritated at the portrayal of all the loyal, hot female assistants, but then I'm a humorless feminist so that's to be expected. Perhaps, you, Lance as the non-feminist you claim to be can give us your take on that angle of the movie. I imagine that's what you intend to do, telling us that you would be writing more about the Amy Adams role.

Redstar

I just watched this movie on On Demand. I thought it was entertaining, and nothing more. I had low expectations - I loathe Hollywood's (and our culture's, more generally) tendency to interpret complex histories via one character (Rosa Parks, anyone?) so I figured this movie would be an oversimplified white-US-patriotic rah-rah fest, and indeed, it was.

I also didn't like the roles for women in this flick, but again, I wasn't surprised.

That said, it did seem like it made the point about his actions leading to the Taliban and our continued presence in Afghanistan to this day. With the travel of Doc, the head of the Appropriations Committee, and the discussion about God b/w Joanne an Charlie - it was apparent to me in Doc's speech to the refugees and the side convo b/w Joanne and Charlie that the audience was supposed to get the point about us arming and training future terrorists, and/or our role in fighting holy wars. Though as my boyfriend put it, the movie was light/subtle/superficial enough that if you didn't want to get the message, you might not.

Redstar

I just watched this movie on On Demand. I thought it was entertaining, and nothing more. I had low expectations - I loathe Hollywood's (and our culture's, more generally) tendency to interpret complex histories via one character (Rosa Parks, anyone?) so I figured this movie would be an oversimplified white-US-patriotic rah-rah fest, and indeed, it was.

I also didn't like the roles for women in this flick, but again, I wasn't surprised.

That said, it did seem like it made the point about his actions leading to the Taliban and our continued presence in Afghanistan to this day. With the travel of Doc, the head of the Appropriations Committee, and the discussion about God b/w Joanne an Charlie - it was apparent to me in Doc's speech to the refugees and the side convo b/w Joanne and Charlie that the audience was supposed to get the point about us arming and training future terrorists, and/or our role in fighting holy wars. Though as my boyfriend put it, the movie was light/subtle/superficial enough that if you didn't want to get the message, you might not.

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