Saturday, January 12, 2008

CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR - funny/scary morality tale

You know you've reached rock bottom when you're told you have character flaws by a man who hanged his predecessor in a military coup.CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR is whip-smart, viciously funny and scarily based in fact. Wilson was the Republican Congressman who channelled monumental sums of money to the Afghan militias fighting the Soviet Union in the 1980s. In doing so, he forced the Soviets to retreat ignominiously and precipitated the fall of the USSR and the end of the Cold War. But as Wilson realises in the moment of his greatest triumph, "we fucked up the endgame." By pulling funding as soon as the fighting stopped - y refusing to rebuild Afghanistan - the US left a power vacuum that was filled by all those CIAl-trained Islamists, armed to the teeth by Charlie. They went on to wreak havoc in Afghanistan, and later, the world.

The movie is brilliantly funny, thanks to an incisive, ballsy script from Aaron "West Wing" Sorkin and the fundamentally scoundrelous subject matter. The paradoxes abound. Wilson is a Republican Congressman from Texas, expert at wheedling favours out of Committee-men, but he's also a womanising, cocaine-snorting, whisky-swilling good-time boy. Wilson has the private morals of a skunk but he's curiously good to his word when it comes to the big stuff. He does what he promises and he's intelligent enough to feel the tragedy of his Committee's refusal to fund a reconstruction. That's why Tom Hanks is perfectly cast here. He's made a career out of being charming and decent, so that even when he's sleazing around a hot-tub you still love him. Wilson is matched pound for pound by all-time scoundrelous CIA agent and bad-ass Gust Avrakotos. Philip Seymour Hoffman's is on top form as the angry, devil-may-care but politically astute CIA fixer who finds his ultimate sugar daddy in Wilson. The only down-side is that, chaps aside, the women in this flick get short thrift. Julia Roberts is magestic and menacing as the Christian fundamentalist fund-raiser Joanna Herring but you never really understand why a Texan socialite would become obsessed with Asian politics. Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are wasted in small roles as Wilson's PA and mistress.

Some critics have complained that there isn't enough politics in this movie. Specifically, that the script does not explicitly show the impact of Wilson's war on the Soviets occupying Afghanistan, or the way in which the arms and training fuelled Jihadists that ended up in the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Iraq. Frankly, I think they're missing the point. We all know the grim repurcussions of the Afghani war. We're living with them. It's far more incisive to see how that sad misadventure began. And frankly, it's a lot more entertaining.

CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR was released in the US in 2007 and is currently playing in the UK, Greece, Kuwait, Japan, Portugal and Greece. It opens later in January in Belgium, France, Iceland, Argentina, Australia, the Netherlands and South Korea. The film opens in February in Estonia, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Venezuela, Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, Turkey, Slovakia, Spain, Egypt, Singapore and Brazil. It opens in Russia on April 24th 2008.

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