December 23, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

Abu Muqawama watched Charlie Wilson's War with his grandmother yesterday and can recommend it to his readership, although Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance was the only thing about the film that was truly Oscar-worthy. Abu Muqawama personally enjoyed the dig at Admiral Stansfield Turner, who fired hundreds of CIA agents with native-level language skills because, as immigrants (some second-generation), their loyalty was questionable. We would never do that today. No, not us. We take full advantage of the skills within our immigrant population and never, ever alienate them.

And be sure to read this profile from the Washington Post on the real Charlie Wilson.

Update: AM has a nasty way of holding this Charlie's feet to the fire when she says she wants to post on something: he writes on it himself. The nerve!

As a movie CWW is totally entertaining: as AM says, Philip Seymour Hoffman is great (he has many of the best lines in the movie), Julia Robert's Houston-socialite-earrings should have their own spot in the credits, and Aaron Sorkin still has it in him to write funny, pointed dialogue. (See AO Scott's review for more on that.)

And somewhat surprisingly, CWW gets most of the politics--domestic and international--right too. It will surprise few readers that this Charlie is somewhat of a snob. She read Ghost Wars instead of Charlie Wilson's War, thinking the latter was unserious. Intrepid reporter Spencer set her straight: "They're like apples and oranges...but one is a schoolmarmish apple and the other is a chocolate orange smothered in whiskey and garnished with blow." So true. Ghost Wars is a tome; CWW is a romp. And while Ghost Wars surveys 20 years of American policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan (with a little bit of Saudi Arabia on the side), Charlie Wilson's War is primarily about the very narrow question of funding and delivering Stinger missiles to the mujahadeen.

(The action montage once the Afghans finally receive the Stingers is unsettling, not unlike Mathieu's arrival in Algiers in "Battle of Algiers": emotionally you root for them, even though you know it's going to end badly. And the kill rates are just unbelievable: Charlie was asking herself how we'd do in Afghanistan or Iraq today with losses quarterly losses of 100+ helos and fixed wing aircraft. Holy god.)

The movie also does a good job of highlighting the religious fervor motivating many of the players (watching a pasty, pudgy congressman shout Allahu Akbar from a refugee camp in Pakistan provides one of the movies more uncomfortable ironic moments). And while Hoffman's CIA agent is hostile to Julia Roberts and all her fellow Texas zealots, the complications only dawn on Charlie slowly, leading him to eventually realize that "sooner or later, God is going to be on both sides."

Some have criticized the movie as too glib and one-dimensional. They're apparently not as smart as your blogger's 15 year-old brother who brilliantly passed the post-movie seminar (Charlie can't really turn off professor mode; be glad you don't have to suffer her brother's fate):

Charlie: What was your favorite part of the movie?
Brother: I liked the part at the end, how we changed the world but, uh, messed up the end game. [Charlie's brother won't swear, it's mind boggling.]
Charlie: So what should we have done?
Brother: Built those schools, sent more money. And used one of those missiles to take out Osama bin Laden.

Go see the movie. And see if you can outsmart the 10th grader.