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Charlie Wilson's War - Movie Review

Updated on February 1, 2014

A Congressman Goes To War

Charlie Wilson's War is a 2007 movie (also available on DVD) about former Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, a Democrat who represented an East Texas Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representative from 1973 to 1977.

The movie takes place in the 1980s following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to prop up the struggling Soviet puppet government in that nation.  This was the Cold War Era in which the United States was leading the West in a battle to prevent the further spread of communism.

While the U.S. and former Soviet Union rarely fired shots directly at each other, each side did provide support to third party proxies who engaged the other side in actual combat. 

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In Korea and Vietnam U.S. military forces openly fought Soviet supported governments in the north of these two states who were attempting to conquer the U.S. backed states in the southern half of these two areas.

In addition to openly providing economic and military material support to North Korea and North Vietnam in these two wars, the Soviet Union also secretly provided military advisers who also engaged in direct combat.

In Afghanistan the tables were turned and the former Soviet Union found itself directly involved in fighting the Afghan insurgents while the United States covertly supplied the insurgents with weapons and other material.

Congressman Wilson Teams Up With Covert Agent Gust Avrakotos

In this movie, which is based upon George Crile's 2003 book Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History, Congressman Charlie Wilson (played by Tom Hanks) teams up with an unconventional CIA operative named Gust Avrakotos (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) to secretly aid and arm the Afghan insurgents in their battle against the Soviet invaders.

The partnership between Wilson and Avrakotos results in the Afghan insurgents being armed and trained in the use of hand held Stinger missiles which they ended up using with deadly precision against Soviet helicopter gunships and ground fighting vehicles.

The end result was a humiliating defeat for the Soviet's in Afghanistan which, along with other serious economic problems led to the collapse of the Soviet communist government a few years later.

A Good Guys vs Bad Guys Movie

This is an action packed movie in which the good guys, Wilson and Avrakotos, defeat the bad guys despite the best efforts of incompetent bureaucrats to derail them. Wilson is portrayed as a master politician who is able to wheel and deal to get support for his projects both inside and outside the government.

It is Wilson who gets Congress to increase funding for covert anti-communist operations (in real life the increase was from $5 million to $500 million) and then convinces the Saudi government to match the U.S. amounts with much of it going to support the Afghan operation.

Avrakotos, for his part, worked within the CIA to get around obstacles within the Agency and get it to refocus its efforts in Afghanistan. At one point early in the movie Wilson asks Avrakotos what the CIA strategy was for Afghanistan and Avrakotos answers Well, strictly speaking, we don't have one, but me and three others are working on it.

While he lacks the smooth sophistication of a Sean Connery, a Roger Moore or others who have played James Bond, Avrakotos is very much the rugged individualist who saves Western Civilization while the bureaucrats at MI5 and the CIA sit and fret.

While Avrakotos is all tactics and military logistics, his lack of Bond like interest in women is more than made up for by Wilson who is almost always surrounded by beautiful young women and is proud of his reputation as a womanizer and party goer.

A Great Movie

I highly recommend this movie for those who like action and American victories, this is a great movie and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I did, however, have a couple of problems with the movie.

The first was the idea that a lone Congressman and low level CIA agent could almost single handidly involve the nation in a large scale covert war.

While I totally agreed with their objective of helping to destroy communism, I wasn't comfortable with the end justifies the means mentality. Short cuts have their appeal but bypassing normal processes for a good cause leaves the door open for others to by pass them for bad causes in the future.

Of course, this was only a movie in which Wilson and Avrakotos were the heroes - a little research revealed that, Wilson was really part of a much larger operation.

While Wilson was a key person who provided critical Congressional support for the project the operation was initiated by the President as Commander in Chief and was a large and legal team effort.

However, Wilson and Avrakotos acting as a couple of maverick cowboys on their own definitely make for better theater.

A Family Affair

The second minor problem was the fact that I watched the DVD with my then 20 year old son and then 18 year old stepson both of whom were born toward the end of this period in history.  I thus had to explain the context in which the movie took place.  

This required a little bit of diplomacy on my part as my step-son is from Russia and his grand-father, my father-in-law, commanded a Soviet Air Force Fighter Squadron at that time (although I am fairly certain that he was not deployed in Afghanistan and, not being a helicopter pilot, he was not a target for the Stinger missiles). 

© 2010 Chuck Nugent


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