Charlie Wilson's War

For the British comic strip, see Charley's War.
Charlie Wilson's War

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mike Nichols
Produced by Tom Hanks
Gary Goetzman
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
Based on Charlie Wilson's War
by George Crile
Starring Tom Hanks
Julia Roberts
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Amy Adams
Ned Beatty
Emily Blunt
Om Puri
Ken Stott
John Slattery
Denis O'Hare
Jud Tylor
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Stephen Goldblatt
Edited by John Bloom
Antonia Van Drimmelen
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • December 21, 2007 (2007-12-21)
Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $75 million
Box office $119 million[1]

Charlie Wilson's War is a 2007 American comedy-drama film, based on the story of U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson and CIA operative Gust Avrakotos, whose efforts led to Operation Cyclone, a program to organize and support the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet–Afghan War.

The film was directed by Mike Nichols (his final film) and written by Aaron Sorkin, who adapted George Crile III's 2003 book Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman starred, with Amy Adams and Ned Beatty in supporting roles. It was nominated for five Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, but did not win in any category. Hoffman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.


The film opens with a large gathering inside an aircraft hangar. Everyone is attending a private ceremony for Democratic U.S. Representative Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), who is receiving a major commendation for supporting the U.S. clandestine services. As everyone looks in admiration upon a clearly moved Wilson, the movie goes back in time.

In 1980, Wilson, representing Texas's 2nd congressional district, is more interested in partying than legislating. He is an inveterate drinker and has staffed his congressional office with nubile, young women. A man of limited income, he shrewdly has amassed political favors in exchange for critical votes in the House. Furthermore, he is a prominent member of several highly influential congressional committees related to defense spending and covert espionage operations.

Wilson's attention is first drawn to the Soviet armed occupation of Afghanistan when he watches a televised Dan Rather report while hot-tubbing with cocaine-snorting strippers, a centerfold, and an aspiring producer in Las Vegas. He wonders why Rather is wearing a turban and conversing with poorly armed Afghan freedom fighters. Returning to Washington for a vote, Wilson follows up on the Afghan struggles against the Soviet invaders and unceremoniously doubles its current measly $5 million funding for US support.

As a consequence of this sudden increase, he receives an unexpected phone call from Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts). Herring is a prominent and influential Texas socialite and former beauty queen and is known for her religious and politically conservative activism. She has aided Wilson in the past, and now she is looking to have a favor returned. She has heard of his expanding the covert Afghan budget and encourages him to do more to help the Afghan people.

Making all the necessary arrangements, Herring persuades him to fly out and visit the Pakistani leadership. Pakistani President Zia and two top military aides are skeptical of Wilson's courtesy call. They complain about the inadequate American support in opposing the Soviet Union, with the sad result being that their country is being flooded with Afghans fleeing the warfare. Zia persuades Wilson to visit a major Pakistan-based Afghan refugee camp,where he is deeply moved by the sprawling camp, the endless squalor, the ceaseless misery, the children maimed by land mines, the constant deaths and funerals, the struggle to find food, and, yet, amazingly, the obvious determination by camp inhabitants to fight the Soviets.

He leaves the refugee camp a changed man. Immediately meeting with a regional CIA chief, Wilson is frustrated by the official's insistence on a low-key approach against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan to avoid direct American implication. Wilson returns home to lead an effort to substantially increase funding to the mujahideen.

Meanwhile, Wilson's social life eventually brings about a federal investigation into allegations of his cocaine use, conducted by US Attorney Rudy Giuliani, as part of a larger investigation into congressional misconduct. The investigation, though nerve-wracking, results in no charge against Wilson.

As part of the US covert effort, he befriends the maverick CIA officer Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his understaffed Afghanistan group to find a better strategy, especially including a means to counter the Soviets' formidable Mi-24 helicopter gunship. The group was composed in part of members of the CIA's Special Activities Division, including a young paramilitary officer named Michael Vickers (Christopher Denham). As a result, Wilson deft political bargaining for the necessary funding and Avrakotos' group's careful planning using those resources, such as supplying the guerrillas with FIM-92 Stinger missile launchers to shoot down MiGs, turns the Soviet occupation into a deadly quagmire with their heavy fighting vehicles being destroyed at a crippling rate. The CIA's Afghanistan budget evolves from $5 million to over $500 million (with the same amount matched by Saudi Arabia), startling several congressmen. This effort ultimately evolves into a major portion of the U.S. foreign policy known as the Reagan Doctrine, under which the US expanded assistance beyond just the mujahideen but also supports other anti-communist resistance movements around the world.

Wilson follows Gust's guidance to seek support for post-Soviet occupation Afghanistan but finds almost no enthusiasm in the US government for even the modest measures he proposes. The film ends with a return to the hangar scene in which Wilson finishes receiving a major commendation for supporting the clandestine services.

However, his pride is tempered by his fears of what unintended consequences that his secret efforts could yield later and the implications of US disengagement from Afghanistan.


Release and reception

Box office

The film was originally set for release on December 25, 2007; but on November 30, the timetable was moved up to December 21. In its opening weekend, the film grossed $9.6 million in 2,575 theaters in the United States and Canada, ranking #4 at the box office.[2] It grossed a total of $119 million worldwide—$66.7 million in the United States and Canada and $52.3 million in other territories.[1]

Critical reaction

Charlie Wilson's War received generally favorable reviews from critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 82% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 192 reviews.[3] Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 69 out of 100, based on 39 reviews.[4]

Governmental criticism and praise

Reagan-era officials, including former Under Secretary of Defense Fred Ikle, have criticized some elements of the film. The Washington Times reported that some have claimed that the film wrongly promotes the notion that the CIA-led operation funded Osama bin Laden and ultimately produced the September 11 attacks.[5] Other Reagan-era officials, however, have been more supportive of the film. Michael Johns, the former Heritage Foundation foreign policy analyst and White House speechwriter to President George H. W. Bush, praised the film as "the first mass-appeal effort to reflect the most important lesson of America's Cold War victory: that the Reagan-led effort to support freedom fighters resisting Soviet oppression led successfully to the first major military defeat of the Soviet Union... Sending the Red Army packing from Afghanistan proved one of the single most important contributing factors in one of history's most profoundly positive and important developments."[6]

Russian reception

In February 2008, it was revealed that the film would not play in Russian theaters. The rights for the film were bought by Universal Pictures International (UPI) Russia. It was speculated that the film would not appear because of a certain point of view that depicted the Soviet Union unfavorably. UPI Russia head Yevgeny Beginin denied that, saying, "We simply decided that the film would not make a profit." Reaction from Russian bloggers was also negative. One wrote: "The whole film shows Russians, or rather Soviets, as brutal killers."[7][8]

Historical accuracy

Mujahideen support

While the film depicts Wilson as an immediate advocate for supplying the mujahideen with Stinger missiles, a former Reagan administration official recalls that he and Wilson, while advocates for the mujahideen, were actually initially "lukewarm" on the idea of supplying these missiles. Their opinion changed when they discovered that rebels were successful in downing Soviet gunships with them.[5] As such, they were actually not supplied until the second Reagan administration term, in 1987, and their provision was advocated mostly by Reagan defense officials and influential conservatives.[9][10][11]

Crystal Lee

The character "Crystal Lee", played by Jud Tylor, appears in the "hot tub" scene, which took place in Summer 1980. Later on in the movie, in two different telephone conversations, Wilson mentions that "Crystal Lee" was on the cover of Playboy, was in Las Vegas with him, and told Rudy Giuliani's investigators that she saw him use cocaine in the Cayman Islands. The way the movie portrays it, the investigation took place just weeks after the Las Vegas hot tub incident. In reality, the hot tub incident took place in 1980. Liz Wickersham, Miss Georgia 1976 and Wilson's then-girlfriend, who was with him in the Las Vegas hot tub, was on the April 1981 Playboy cover, and told investigators in 1986 that she saw Wilson use cocaine in the Caymans.

Happy ending

The film's happy ending came about because Tom Hanks "just can't deal with this 9/11 thing," according to Melissa Roddy, a Los Angeles film maker with inside information from the production.[12] Citing the original screenplay, which was very different from the final product, in Reel Power: Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy Matthew Alford wrote that the film gave up "the chance to produce what at least had the potential to be the Dr. Strangelove of our generation".[13]


In his 2011 book Afgantsy former British ambassador to Russia Rodric Braithwaite describes the film as "amusing but has only an intermittent connection with historical reality."[14]


The film depicts the concern expressed by Charlie and Gust that Afghanistan was being neglected in the 1990s, following the Soviet withdrawal. In one of the film's final scenes, Gust dampens Charlie's enthusiasm over the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying "I'm about to give you an NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) that shows the crazies are rolling into Kandahar."

George Crile III, author of the book on which the film is based, wrote that the mujahideen's victory in Afghanistan ultimately opened a power vacuum for bin Laden: "By the end of 1993, in Afghanistan itself there were no roads, no schools, just a destroyed country—and the United States was washing its hands of any responsibility. It was in this vacuum that the Taliban and Osama bin Laden would emerge as the dominant players. It is ironic that a man who had almost nothing to do with the victory over the Red Army, Osama bin Laden, would come to personify the power of the jihad."[15]

In 2008, Canadian journalist and politician Arthur Kent sued the makers of the film, claiming that they had used material he produced in the 1980s without obtaining the proper authorization.[16] On September 19, 2008, Kent announced that he had reached a settlement with the film's producers and distributors, and that he was "very pleased" with the terms of the settlement, which remain confidential.[17]

Awards and nominations

Award Date of ceremony Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards February 24, 2008 Best Supporting Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman Nominated
British Academy Film Awards February 10, 2008 Best Actor in a Supporting Role Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association December 13, 2007 Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Awards January 7, 2008 Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Best Writer Aaron Sorkin Nominated
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association December 17, 2007 Best Supporting Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman 2nd Place
Top 10 Films 10th Place
Golden Globe Awards[18] January 13, 2008 Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy Nominated
Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Tom Hanks Nominated
Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture Philip Seymour Hoffman Nominated
Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture Julia Roberts Nominated
Best Screenplay Aaron Sorkin Nominated
National Society of Film Critics January 5, 2008 Best Supporting Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman 3rd Place
Online Film Critics Society January 8, 2008 Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Sant Jordi Awards April 23, 2009 Best Foreign Actor
(also for Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and The Savages)
Toronto Film Critics Association December 18, 2007 Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association December 10, 2007 Best Adapted Screenplay Aaron Sorkin Won
World Soundtrack Academy October 18, 2008 Soundtrack Composer of the Year
(also for Michael Clayton and I Am Legend)
James Newton Howard Won

Home release

The film was released on DVD April 22, 2008; a DVD version and a HD DVD/DVD combo version are available. The extras include a making of featurette and a "Who is Charlie Wilson?" featurette, which profiles the real Charlie Wilson and features interviews with him and with Tom Hanks, Joanne Herring, Aaron Sorkin, and Mike Nichols. The HD DVD/DVD combo version also includes additional exclusive content.[19]


  1. 1 2 "Charlie Wilson's War (2007)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
  2. "Charlie Wilson's War (2007) - Weekend Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-05-02.
  3. "Charlie Wilson's War". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
  4. "Charlie Wilson's War (2007): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2007-12-21.
  5. 1 2 Gertz, Bill (December 21, 2007). "Charlie's Movie". The Washington Times.
  6. Johns, Michael (January 19, 2008). "Charlie Wilson's War Was Really America's War". Blogger. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  7. Александра Шевелева (2008-03-18). "BBC: A film not for everybody (in Russian)". BBC News. Retrieved 2013-06-29.
  8. Bierbaum, Tom (February 10, 2008). "'Charlie' won't play in Russia". Variety. Retrieved April 11, 2008.
  9. Sageman, Marc (2004). Understanding Terror Networks. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 9780812238082.
  10. "Did the U.S. "Create" Osama bin Laden?". US Department of State. January 14, 2005. Archived from the original on March 10, 2005. Retrieved March 28, 2007.
  11. Kengor, Paul (January 12, 2008). "Whose War? Separating Fact from Fiction in 'Charlie Wilson's War'". American Thinker. Retrieved June 29, 2013.
  12. Johnson, Chalmers (2010). Dismantling the Empire. Metropolitan Books. p. 90. ISBN 0805093036.
  13. Alford, Matthew (2010). Reel Power: Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy. Pluto Press. p. 81. ISBN 9780745329833.
  14. Rodric Braithwaite, Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-89. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 384.
  15. Crile, George (2003). Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0-87113-854-9.
  16. Hartley, Matt (April 26, 2008). "Charlie Wilson's intellectual-property war". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved August 16, 2013.
  17. Droganes, Constance (September 19, 2008). "Arthur Kent settles suits over 'Charlie Wilson's War'". CTV News. Retrieved August 16, 2013.
  18. "Hollywood Foreign Press Association 2008 Golden Globe Awards for the Year Ended December 31, 2007". 2007-12-13. Archived from the original on 2007-12-15. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
  19. "Charlie Wilson's War". DVDactive. Retrieved 2008-02-10.

External links

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Charlie Wilson's War
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/20/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.