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Charlie Wilson's War (2007) is a biographical drama film recounting the true story of U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson (Dem., TXmarker) who partnered with "bare knuckle attitude" CIA operative Gust Avrakotos to launch Operation Cyclone, a program to organize and support the Afghan mujahideen in their resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistanmarker.The film is adapted from George Crile's 2003 book Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. It is directed by Mike Nichols, written by Aaron Sorkin, and stars Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Om Puri, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Ned Beatty and Emily Blunt. It was nominated for five Golden Globe Awards, including "Best Motion Picture", but did not win in any category. Philip Seymour Hoffman was nominated for an Academy Award for "Best Supporting Actor".

Plot summary

The film shows Charlie having a very gregarious social life of women and partying, including having his congressional office staffed with young, attractive women. The film also shows how the partying causes a federal investigation into allegations of cocaine use by Charlie, conducted by then-federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani as part of a larger investigation into congressional misconduct. The investigation results in no charge against Charlie.

A friend and romantic interest, Joanne Herring, encourages Charlie to do more to help the Afghans, and persuades Charlie to visit the Pakistanimarker leadership. The Pakistanis complain about the inadequate support of the U.S. to oppose the Soviets, and they insist that Charlie visit a major Pakistan-based Afghan refugee camp. Deeply moved by their misery and determination to fight, Charlie is frustrated by the regional CIA personnel's insistence on a low key approach against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Charlie returns home to lead an effort to substantially increase funding to the mujahideen.

As part of this effort, Charlie befriends the maverick CIA operative Gust Avrakotos and his understaffed Afghanistan group to find a better strategy, especially including a means to counter the Soviets' formidable Mi-24 helicopter gunship. This group was composed in part of members of the CIA's elite Special Activities Division, including a young paramilitary officer named Michael Vickers. As a result, Charlie's 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, turns the Soviet occupation into a deadly quagmire with their heavy fighting vehicles being destroyed at a crippling rate. The CIA's anti-communism budget evolves from $5 million to over $500 million (with the same amount matched by Saudi Arabiamarker), startling several congressmen. This effort by Charlie ultimately evolves into a major portion of the U.S. foreign policy known as the Reagan Doctrine, under which the U.S. expanded assistance beyond just the mujahideen and began also supporting other anti-communist resistance movements around the world. Crile states that senior Pentagon official Michael Pillsbury persuaded President Ronald Reagan to provide the Stingers to the Afghans: "Ironically, neither Gust nor Charlie was directly involved in the decision and claims any credit."

Charlie follows Gust's guidance to seek support for post-Soviet occupation Afghanistan, but finds almost no enthusiasm in the U.S. government for even the modest measures he proposes. The film ends with Charlie receiving a major commendation for the support of the U.S. clandestine services, but his pride is tempered by his fears of what unintended consequences his secret efforts could yield in the future and the implications of U.S. disengagement from Afghanistan.


 Composite characters

Release and reception

The film was originally set for release on December 25, 2007; but on November 30, 2007 the timetable was moved up to December 21, 2007. 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. , it has grossed a total of $113.5 million worldwide — $66.6 million in the United States and Canada and $46.8 million in other territories.

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 163 reviews. Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 69 out of 100, based on 39 reviews.

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. Other Reagan-era officials, however, have been more supportive of the film. Michael Johns, the former Heritage Foundation foreign policy analyst and White Housemarker 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," Johns wrote, "proved one of the single most important contributing factors in one of history's most profoundly positive and important developments."

Connections to September 11

While no specific reference to the September 11 attacks is made in Charlie Wilson's War, the film depicts the concern expressed by Charlie and Gust that Afghanistan was being neglected in the 1990s, following the Soviet troop 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 that shows the crazies are rolling into Kandaharmarker."

George Crile, author of Charlie Wilson's War, 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."

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. As such, they were actually not supplied until the second Reagan administration term, in 1987, and their provision was mostly advocated by Reagan defense officials and influential conservatives.
 Dates supplied on the film seem to reflect an accurate recounting of the provision of these missiles.

Status in Russia

In early February 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 USSR unfavorably. UPI Russia head Yevgeny Beginin denied that, saying, "We simply decided that the film would not make a profit." Reaction from Russian bloggers, who had seen the film on pirated DVDs, was negative. One wrote: "The whole film shows Russians, or rather Soviets, as brutal killers."

Status in Egypt

The Central Department of Censorship in Egypt removed the belly-dancing scene, which depicts Egyptian former defense minister Abd al-Halim Abu Ghazala as a womanizer. Many Egyptian newspapers wrote about the incident.

Home video

The movie was released on DVD on 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.

Historical context

Wilson has since recounted that, "I always, always, whenever a plane goes down, I always fear it is one of our missiles. Most of all I wanted to bloody the Red Army. I think the bloodying thereof had a great deal to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union." He now surmises that some of the weapons probably wound up in the hands of the Taliban regime, which took power in Afghanistan and harbored Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden, organizer of the September 11 attacks. "I feel guilty about it," he said. "I really do." "Those things happen," Wilson said of wartime weapons that wind up in the wrong hands. "How are you going to defeat the Red Army without a gun? You can't blame the Marines for teaching Lee Harvey Oswald how to shoot." Wilson, who did not seek re-election to Congress in 1996 after serving 24 years, now believes he could have worked harder to steer Afghanistan away from the course that led it to today. "The part that I'll take to my grave with guilt is that . . . I didn't stay the course and stay there and push and drive the other members of Congress nuts pushing for a mini-Marshall Plan," he said. "And I let myself be frustrated and discouraged by the fact that (the Afghan) leadership was so fragmented that we were unable to do the things we needed to do, like clear the mines, like furnish them millions of tons of fertilizer to be able to replant the crops."

The interventionist policy of aiding anti-communist resistance forces in Afghanistan enjoyed considerable bipartisan support in the U.S.

The policy was later embraced by Reagan administration foreign policy and defense officials, who escalated conflict with Soviet-supported governments. Jimmy Carter—who had already served his term previous to Reagan—distanced himself from the policy's broader application, and was a vocal opponent of U.S. aid to such "nation building" movements. Congressional Democrats also largely opposed the broader application of the Reagan Doctrine.

Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has stated that the U.S. effort to aid the mujahideen was preceded by an effort to draw the Soviets into a costly and presumably distractive Vietnam War-like conflict. In a 1998 interview with the French news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, Brzezinski recalled: "We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would... That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Soviets into the Afghan trap... The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, "We now have the opportunity of giving to the Soviet Union its Vietnam War."

Arthur Kent lawsuit

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. 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.

Awards and nominations


See also


  1. George Crile, Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003, ISBN 0-87113-854-9.
  2. Charlie's Movie The Washington Times, December 21, 2007
  3. "Charlie Wilson's War Was Really America's War," by Michael Johns, January 19, 2008.
  4. Crile, George: "Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History". Atlantic Monthly Press
  5. [1] Sageman, Marc Understanding Terror Networks, chapter 2, University of Pennsylvania Press, May 1, 2004
  6. Whose War? Separating Fact from Fiction in 'Charlie Wilson's War'
  7. BBC: A film not for everybody (in Russian)
  8. 'Charlie' won't play in Russia Retrieved on April 11, 2008
  9. 9/27/01 FILE STORY: 'Good-time' Charlie Wilson has regrets about Afghanistan
  10. Rollback: Right Wing Power in U.S. Foreign Policy, South End Press, 1989.
  11. Actualité, Spécial islamisme
  12. No Regrets: Carter, Brzezinski and the Muj
  13. Globe and Mail, "Charlie Wilson's intellectual-property war" April 26, 2008
  14. CTV News, [2] September 19, 2008

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