Charlie did it

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

Charles Nesbitt Wilson retired from the U.S. House of Representatives 10 years ago. But the liberal-minded rollicking rebel is only now getting the national fame he so richly deserves.

His most famous caper, the behind-the-scenes funding of Afghan’s war against Russia in the 1980s, is delightfully presented in the new Mike Nichols’ film, “Charlie Wilson’s War.” Tom Hanks stars as Wilson, and even though the film is chock-a-block with political gibble-gabble, the script by Aaron Sorkin is bright and sassy enough to charm even the most politically unhip.

Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman share the top billing with Hanks, and needless to say, Oscar nomination buzz abounds.

Like any Democratic politician worth his beans, “Good Time Charlie” Wilson (as he was known) was fiercely dedicated to his country, his booze, and his women. What’s more, he hated the Soviet empire with an equal passion, and when he learned that those naughty Rooskies had invaded Afghanistan, he set out to right this obvious wrong. Hooking up with a wealthy and influential Texas millionaire (played by Roberts) and a renegade CIA operative (Hoffman), he managed to successfully juggle politics, bribery, drugs and good old-fashioned finagling to set off the largest CIA covert operation in history. (At least, as far as we know.)

Last week the History Channel ran a two-hour documentary about the subject, including extensive interviews with ol’ Charlie himself and others from his merry band. It’s hard not to like the guy – especially when a check of his record shows he always espoused the standard liberal line: pro-choice, pro women’s rights, pro-environment, and all that other good stuff. Keep an eye open for a rerun on this program; the History Channel’s sure to rerun it and it’s nearly as much fun as the movie itself.

Aaron Sorkin was the perfect choice to write this script, based on George Crile’s book. Sorkin, the genius behind our beloved “The West Wing,” has a knack for approaching Washington politics with a 1930s screwball comedy air, adding all the heart and charm of a Frank Capra movie.

Tom Hanks, as Charlie, absolutely nails the role. One may disapprove of his love of whiskey and wild women, but you end up loving the guy anyway. He’s absolutely honest and open about his lifestyle, and when asked why his Washington office staff consisted strictly of gorgeous young women, Charlie replies, “You can teach ’em to type, but you can’t teach ’em to grow tits.”

The jaw-dropping story of how Charlie and his minions funneled millions of U.S. dollars and cutting-edge weapons to the Afghan mujahideen (the loosely-knit group fighting the invading Russians) is revealed clearly and smartly. And it pulls no punches – it ends the same way most American covert operations end – disastrously.

How could the rag-tag Afghans actually defeat the well-armed and ruthless Soviet war machine? As the Russians left Afghanistan, tanks between their legs, a Pakistan military leader explained it best. “Charlie did it,” he said.

Hanks, Roberts, Hoffman, and Sorkin have all been nominated for individual Golden Globe awards, and the film itself grabbed a Best Picture nom. If Robert Redford and his gang, who made this year’s other big-star political flick (“Lions for Lambs”) had seen “Charlie Wilson’s War” first, they never would have bothered with that snore-fest.

Meanwhile, Back at the Dixie:

Amy Adams has been the critics’ darling ever since “Junebug,” and besides seeing her in “Charlie Wilson’s War” elsewhere, you can catch her starring in “Enchanted,” which is getting awards buzz, too. Also at the Dixie, a Hilary Swank adult drama, “P.S. I Love You,” sports an excellent cast and – gee, can Hilary do anything bad?

  

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.

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