Monday, December 24, 2007

What I'm Watching -- Charlie Wilson's War

After visiting Ford Field for the final time in 2007 to watch the Detroit Lions play (I'll be back in just a few days time for the Motor City Bowl and likely back in March for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament) and, shockingly, win, I ventured out to the Birmingham 8 to check out a movie I have been looking forward to seeing since I learned Aaron Sorkin had penned the script: Charlie Wilson's War. I wasn't disappointed.

I'll watch almost anything Aaron Sorkin writes. As a devout West Wing fanatic (I've seen every episode at least two or three times, some more than that, and I know a lot of the show's dialogue by heart) and Sports Night fan before that (which, of course, is where the name of this blog, Quo Vadimus, comes from -- Well, actually, to be fair, it comes from Latin, but I learned it from Sports Night long before I covered it in my four semesters of classical Latin in undergrad) and as somebody who thinks A Few Good Men and the American President are two great movies, I pretty much think Sorkin can do no wrong. And even if that isn't always true (as my eulogy for Sorkin's failed Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip proves I'll still give what Sorkin is selling a fair shake before I give up on it.

In this case, Sorkin was selling the true story of Congressman Charles Wilson, a Texas Democrat who helped launch a covert war, brought the Saudis and Israelis together (if even unofficially) and brought down the Soviet Union, feats before thought impossible. When I first read that the movie and its actors had been nominated in the "comedy" category of the Golden Globes, I was a bit confused as the subject matter, on its fact, doesn't lend itself to comedy. But while the Cold War and the end of the USSR may not be a barrel of laughs, the real-life characters behind the Afghans rise against the Russians, Wilson (played by Tom Hanks) and his CIA-confidant Gust Avrakotos (played by the great Philip Seymour Hoffman) are hilarious. Seymour Hoffman is especially great and very very funny. The movie is sharp, fast-paced (and quick at just over 90-minutes of screen time) and tells a story worth telling. Amy Adams is also great in her role as Wilson's legislative assistant, chief among a staff of incredibly beautiful assistants (one of whom is Rachel Nichols of Alias fame).

The movie is also thought-provoking and serious, as much for its ending as the story of how Wilson was able to build the budget for covert operations from $5 million to at least 100-times that amount by the end of hostilities in Afghanistan. While Congress had no problem pumping hundreds of millions of dollars in aide to the Afghanistan people to fight the Russians, the government quickly lost interest after the fall of the Berlin Wall, refused to provide Afghanistan the money it needed to rebuild its demolished infrastructure and schools, and created a vacuum of power which was unfortunately filled by the Tailban, and we all know where that tragically led. The movie does not spend much time on the after-effects of Wilson's "war" but it does make its point in the end in a very profound way, and a way which has drawn some criticism from the Reagan administration.

This a very very good movie, with the right mix of humor, levity, and seriousness. It's a well-written script with great actors giving life to Sorkin's words, and it's well worth seeing, especially when compared with some of the mindless films that are currently drowning theaters. Mindless fun can be attractive sometimes, but don't let the serious nature of the topic of Charlie Wilson's War fool you. It's not all inside Washington politics, not all international diplomacy and war and it's certainly one of the best movies I have seen this year.

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