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Charlie Wilson’s War

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What it’s about:

It’s the story of an unlikely power player, a Texas congressman named Charlie Wilson (played by Tom Hanks), whose penchant for Vegas strippers and cocaine-fueled parties manages to divert the press – and a federal prosecutor named Rudy Giuliani – from his more important role: escalating a covert war in Afghanistan.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, he teams up with a socialite from Texas (played by Julia Roberts) and a marginalized CIA agent, Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), to convince congress to multiply funds for Afghan freedom fighters up against Soviet invaders.  The rationale?  “This is the front of the Cold War,” Wilson explains. “They’re the only people actually shooting at Russians.”

The script blends Aaron Sorkin’s banter and irreverence with an unsettling look at back-channel global politics, and what can sometimes seem like American can-do propaganda hints at the more ominous fallout to come. “We always go in with our ideals and we change the world and we always leave,” Charlie says to Gust. “We f**ed up the end game.”

Names you might know:

Six Oscar winners came together for Charlie Wilson’s War: Director Mike Nichols, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams – who plays Wilson’s congressional aide – and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role here.

Why it’s worth your time:

Adapted from the late 60 Minutes journalist George Crile’s nonfiction bestseller, Charlie Wilson’s War has been cited recently by journalists covering the unfolding events in Afghanistan.  While it’s told through an anachronistic Hollywood lens and aims for subversive satire, it also delivers a 90 minute geopolitical history lesson that brings larger context to the complexities surrounding the country in a way that few documentaries can.

The takeaway:

A suddenly timely look back at how the U.S. first escalated involvement with Afghanistan in the 1980s, told through an eye-opening story that feels like it had to be made up by its Oscar-winning screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin. You’ll find yourself Googling the true stories about the players and names dropped throughout the film.

Watch it with:

The film aims for broad R-rated appeal, bringing big stars, sex and glitz to what is essentially a historical drama. Anyone who’s not a big war documentary fan might find themselves increasingly curious after watching the film.

Worth noting:

If you can follow the rapid-fire dialogue, it’s Hoffman’s deadpan CIA agent who spits out what should have happened in the wake of the war, the blueprint — and larger lesson — we are to collectively take from it all. It was lost on many when the film was released, and international critics in particular took issue with some of the comedic undertones and what could be construed as feel-good patriotism, despite its satiric intentions, belying the horrors of U.S.-led political maneuvering — and what ultimately resulted from “the end game.”

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