Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

Rated: R
Length: 97 minutes
Grade: B+DB+A=B+
Budget: $75 million
Box Office: $67 million US, $47 million Intl

Directed by: Mike Nichols, who previously made Closer, Primary Colors, The Birdcage, Regarding Henry, Working Girl, Biloxi Blues, Silkwood, and The Graduate.
Writen by: Aaron Sorkin, most famous for his staccato smart dialogue on the West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip as well as The American President and A Few Good Men.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams.

A flamboyant Texas congressman discovers the cause of the Afghan Mujahideen by accident and then spends several years secretly coordinating Congress, the CIA, wealthy right-wingers, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan in an effort to help them repel the Soviet Army during the cold war.

Entertainment Value: B+
I have yet to see anything Aaron Sorkin has written that I didn’t enjoy. Sometimes it feels a little unrealistically polished, but I’d rather have fiction that requires intelligence to follow rather than pandering to its lack. The story is amazing and, being based on reality, fascinating. Obviously, with this cast and creative team, the thing wasn’t going to be bad.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sexuality C, Violence C, Language F, Illegality C
The opening scene is the worst offender here, where several people in a hot tub with topless strippers are using cocaine, but it’s almost misleading because that tone doesn’t really continue throughout the movie. Afterward, the primary issue is language, which is certainly enough to earn the R rating, with some additional sexual scenes and innuendo. There’s lots and lots of alcohol consumption. The violence is a combination of warfare footage showing helicopters shooting people and also being shot down with missiles and children who suffered loss of limbs in refugee camps.

Significant Content: B+
File this in the category of scary and amazing at the same time. Politics is complicated and messy. Politicians are motivated by everything from decency to reelection to faith to personal vanity. People with terrible personal morals can still do very important things.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
Let’s be honest, Aaron Sorkin is a genius at bringing politics to the screen. He may not be the modern Frank Capra, but surely no one else is closer to deserving that mantle than he. This is a classic illustration of the principle that you should show people something interesting to think about rather than telling them what to think about it. The people with the most competence often violate our expectations of what they should look like and how they should behave.

Discussion Questions:
~It has been said that there are two processes you don’t want to investigate too closely: the making of sausage and legislation. How does this movie represent this concept? What is your impression of America politics after seeing this movie?
~Knowing what you know about the history of Afghanistan now, what was your reaction to the end of the movie?
~How important do you think pictures and personal contact with the victims of atrocity are in getting something done about evil?
~What do you make of Joanne Herring’s professed faith in God when contrasted with her sexual behavior?
~If you had to guess, would you say Charlie Wilson is a Christian? How would you evaluate him as a politician? As a person? What matters more in evaluating him: his private immorality or his commitment to doing what is right for people like the Afghans? What lessons do you draw from this about what things make someone a great leader? Should private moral pecadillos disqualify people from office?
~Talk about what psychological or moral factors primarily motivated the various players in this movie. Who do you think is the most decent?
~According to Mark Twain, in a twist on Lord Acton, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.” What does this mean, and how does it relate to this movie? How important is the opening claim to be based on real events in keeping you from finding this movie impossibly implausible? Since this movie depicts real events, what should we conclude about our ability to evaluate the truth of things, generally?
~Do you think that the people portrayed in this movie are as sharp and eloquent as they are portrayed? Does that bother you at all?
~Gust is arrogant and this gets him in trouble a lot, but he’s clearly more brilliant than his superiors. Would being more compliant or diplomatic have been an effective strategy for him? Compare his social strategy with Charlie Wilson’s.

Overall Grade: B+
This is scary and intriguing. If you don’t mind the realism of the language, booze, sex, and violence, it’s well worth the time to watch.

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