Charlie Wilson's War

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
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 $119,000,410 [1]

Charlie Wilson's War is a 2007 American biographical comedy-drama film, recounting the true story of U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson who partnered with CIA operative Gust Avrakotos to launch Operation Cyclone, a program to organize and support the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

The film was directed by Mike Nichols (his final picture) 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, Ned Beatty, and Emily Blunt in supporting roles. It was nominated for five Golden Globe Awards, including "Best Motion Picture", but did not win in any category. Hoffman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.


In 1980, Democratic U.S. Representative Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) from Texas's 2nd congressional district is more interested in partying than legislating, frequently throwing huge galas and staffing his congressional office with young, attractive women. His social life eventually brings about a federal investigation into allegations of his cocaine use, conducted by then–U.S. Attorney 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 (Julia Roberts), encourages Charlie to do more to help the Afghan people, and persuades Charlie to visit the Pakistani leadership. The Pakistanis complain about the inadequate support of the U.S. to oppose the Soviet Union, and they insist that Charlie visit a major Pakistan-based Afghan refugee camp. Charlie is deeply moved by their misery and determination to fight, but 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 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. This 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, 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 Arabia), 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.

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.

Literary License and the Real 'Chrystal Lee'[edit]

The character "Chrystal Lee", played by Judy "Jud" Tylor, appears in the "Hot Tub" scene which took place in Summer 1980. Later, in two different telephone conversations, Charlie mentions that Chrystal Lee was 1)on the cover of Playboy, 2)was in Las Vegas with Charlie, and 3)that she told Rudy Giuliani's investigators that she saw Charlie 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 Las Vegas Hot tub incident took place in 1980, Liz Wickersham, Miss Georgia 1976 and Charlie Wilson's then-girlfriend, was with Charlie in the Las Vegas Hot Tub, was on the April 1981 Playboy Cover, and told investigators in 1986 that she saw Charlie use cocaine in the Caymans.


Release and reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

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[edit]

Charlie Wilson's War received generally favorable reviews from critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 81% 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[edit]

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]


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 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."[7]

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 mostly advocated by Reagan defense officials and influential conservatives.[8][9][10]

Happy ending[edit]

The film's happy ending came about because Tom Hanks, "just can't deal with this 9/11 thing,"[clarification needed] according to Melissa Roddy, a Los Angeles film maker with inside information from the production.[11] 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".[12]

Russian reception[edit]

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."[13][14]

Home release[edit]

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.[15]

Arthur Kent lawsuit[edit]

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[edit]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "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. ^ a b 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. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Sageman, Marc (2004). Understanding Terror Networks. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 9780812238082. 
  9. ^ "Did the U.S. "Create" Osama bin Laden?". US Department of State. January 14, 2005. Retrieved March 28, 2007. 
  10. ^ Kengor, Paul (January 12, 2008). "Whose War? Separating Fact from Fiction in 'Charlie Wilson's War'". American Thinker. Retrieved June 29, 2013. 
  11. ^ Johnson, Chalmers (2010). Dismantling the Empire. Metropolitan Books. p. 90. ISBN 0805093036. 
  12. ^ Alford, Matthew (2010). Reel Power: Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy. Pluto Press. p. 81. ISBN 9780745329833. 
  13. ^ Александра Шевелева (2008-03-18). "BBC: A film not for everybody (in Russian)". BBC News. Retrieved 2013-06-29. 
  14. ^ Bierbaum, Tom (February 10, 2008). "'Charlie' won't play in Russia". Variety. Retrieved April 11, 2008. 
  15. ^ "Charlie Wilson's War". DVDactive. Retrieved 2008-02-10. 
  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. 

External links[edit]