Charlie Wilson's War (2007) 




Director:      Mike Nichols. 

Starring:     Tom Hanks (Charlie Wilson),  Amy Adams (Bonnie Bach),  Julia Roberts (Joanne Herring),  Philip Seymour Hoffman (Gust Avrakotos),  Terry Bozeman (CIA Award Presenter),  Brian Markinson (Paul Brown),  Jud Tylor (Crystal Lee),  Hilary Angelo (Kelly),  Cyia Batten (Stacey),  Kirby Mitchell (Stoned Guy),  Ed Regine (Limo Driver),  Daniel Eric Gold (Donnelly),  Emily Blunt (Jane Liddle),  Peter Gerety (Larry Liddle),  Wynn Everett (Charlie's Angels - Receptionist). 

America's assistance to Afghan rebels against the Soviet Union in the 1980s


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Charlie Wilson, a congressman representing the Texas 2nd Congressional District, will speak to a group in Las Vegas.  The introductory speaker says that Charlie engineered the resistance to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s.  Therefore the members of the Clandestine Services are proud to present him with their highest decoration:  "Honored Colleague".

April.6, 1980.  Charlie is in a hot tub with a Playboy playmate and a hustler named Paul Brown in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Paul wants Charlie to help finance a production starring the playmate.  Charlie is very skeptical.  He sees the reporter Dan Rather on the television wearing a strange outfit.  Charlie is curious and wants to know what's going on so he has the TV turned up.  Rather is talking to the Mujahideen (holy warriors).  The holy warriors say if they get weapons, they will win.  Charlie is interested.  A couple of naked women in the hot tub talk to Charlie and are impressed by his considerable knowledge of current affairs. 

Charlie flies back to Washington D.C.  He hears from an aide of Speaker of the House Tip O'Neal that the prosecutor is going to go after representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania.  So Tip wants Charlie to sit on the Ethics Committee so nothing bad happens to Murtha.  Charlie is willing, but he wants in turn to be named to the Board of Directors of the Kennedy Center.  He says it's a great place to take a date and he can't afford the tickets. 

Charlie asks his assistant Bonnie who is their point man on black appropriations for the Defense Committee.   The man's name is Jim Van Wagenen.  A visitor from Nacogdoches, Texas notices that Charlie's entire staff consists of young, beautiful women.  Charlie speaks to the man and his pretty daughter Jane.  The fellow wants to talk about defending the placement of a Christian manger scene on public property in Nacogdoches.  Charlie tells the fellow that they can place the nativity scene on any one of the 38 Christian churches in Nacogdoches.  The visitor is not happy with Charlie's defense of the principle of separation of church and state.

Now Charlie wants to know what is the Defense Subcommittee budget for covert operations against the communists in Afghanistan.  The answer is a measly $5 million dollars.  Charlie tells Jim to double the budget.  (But the amount is still measly.) 

Charlie has Jane with him in her panties and open shirt.  He tells her he graduated from Annapolis with the second most demerits of any midshipman in the history of the US Naval Academy.  Jane tells him that she has heard that he is a man without a girlfriend.  Then suddenly a woman named Joanne calls.  Jane gets perturbed and Charlie has to explain that she is the sixth wealthiest woman in Texas.  He has to speak to her.  Joanne is proud of Charlie for doubling the budget.  Furthermore, she says she is going to show a movie at a fundraiser in Houston on the need for aide to Afghanistan.  She wants him to be there.  (There will be lots of women, she adds.)

CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia.  A heavy-set, unkempt Greek-American called Gust goes in to see Craveley, the Director of European Operations for the agency.  Craveley tells Gust to go ahead and apologize to him.  Gust is shocked and angered.  He was told that Craveley wanted to apologize to him.  They were both told by the same man that they wanted to apologize to the other.  Gust wants to be the man's Helsinki station chief and wants to know from Craveley why wasn't he selected for the post.  He's been learning Finnish for three years.  Craveley says that Gust is too crude for the job.  He needs someone with finesse, even though Gust is the most qualified person.  The conversation ends in a big argument with both men screaming at each other.  Gust leaves, but before he does, he breaks Craveley's window once again. 

Gust complains to an associate at lunch about his frustration with Craveley.  So the fellow tells him that he should come upstairs with his team.  Gust wants to know on what they are working.  The man says simply:  "Killing Russians!"

Charlie and Bonnie are in Houston at the mansion of Joanne.  They are raffling off beautiful "slave girls" for thousands of dollars apiece.  Charlie tells Bonnie that Joanne is a former Miss Cotton Bowl.  Joanne arrives to speak with Charlie and she takes him upstairs with her.  After sex Joanne gets to the point.  Charlie presides over a secret and unlimited budget.  She wants to know why the CIA is waging a fake war in Afghanistan.  In short, she summarizes:  "I want you to save Afghanistan."  She has already made an appointment for him to see the president of Pakistan Mohammed Zia ul-Hag.  The trip will be tagged onto his trip to Israel. 

In Afghanistan the Russian helicopters are doing tremendous damage to structures and the civilian population, as well as the freedom fighters.  The Afghans have such old weapons that they have no defense against the helicopter attacks.  In Pakistan Charlie speaks with Zia and two of his military aides.  Charlie is a real boozer and he asks for some alcohol.  He did not know the Muslims don't approve of the practice.  Zia and his team tell Charlie that one-fifth of Afghanistan now live in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province.  The President says he needs airplanes, guns and money.   He laughs at the $10 million dollar budget for Afghanistan resistance.  The two military men are both mad and resentful of America's almost non-existent support.  When the conference is finished, Zia has Charlie take a helicopter trip to Peshawar to see the Refugee Camps there.  Bonnie asks how the conference went.  Charlie tells her:  "It was like getting slapped around by a Pakistani vaudeville team."

Charlie and Bonnie are taken to the camps.  A supply truck arrives and the people fight each other for the limited supplies brought in.  It doesn't take long before Charlie recognizes the desperation of the situation.  He definitely will help these people fight the Russians.  Charlie goes to the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan to speak with the station chief Harold Holt.  Holt tells Charlie that there are 120,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan.  Holt proceeds with his briefing, but Charlie gets right down to brass tacks:  Why don't we give them something they can use to shoot down the Russian helicopters?   Holt replies that it would draw too much attention to the resistance and American's role in it.  Charlie is disgusted with this response.  The two men part on unfriendly terms. 

Charlie and Bonnie fly back to Washington, D.C.  Charlie gets to work immediately.  He wants to speak with the CIA at 10 a.m. the next morning.  At this time Gust pays a visit to Charlie.  He explains that he is on the Afghan desk.  Charlie complains bitterly about Harold Holt and his answers.  Gust tells Charlie that the man is a "tool".  Holt is not trying to defeat the Soviets.  The staff enter to give Charlie some very bad news.  Gust is asked to step out for a second.  The Justice Department task force looking into sexual misbehavior has noe expanded its role to include looking into the use of recreational drugs by senators and congressmen.   Charlie is concerned because he has used cocaine.  And Paul Brown has been called to testify about the use of cocaine in Las Vegas. 

The women leave and Gust comes back in.  He says that Holt wants slowly to bleed the Soviets in Afghanistan.  Gust has to go out of the room again as the female staff return.  Who is the prosecutor?  A fellow named Rudolf Giuliani from New York. 

Gust comes back in.  He seems to already know a great deal about Charlie's position.  This makes Charlie furious and he accuses Gust of standing by the door and listening in on his conversations  No, he did not need to stand.  He bugged the office when he gave Charlie a wired bottle of Scotch.  Charlie doesn't quite know how to react to this crude and rude man.  Gust asks Charlie to come with him to speak with their weapons expert, a young man named Mike Vickers.  They find him in the park playing chess with four different opponents.   Mike tells them both that he has already written up his weapons report, which no one has bothered to even read.  The weapons, he suggests, will cost around $40 million dollars.  Charlie does not blink an eye over the amount of money involved.  Gust is amazed and says to him:  "Is it possible that I've met the only elected official in town who can help?"

Charlie and Gus travel to Israel, since they have a large collection of Soviet-made weaponry.  He meets with his friend Zvi.  Charlie wants him to work on Menachem Begin.  The focal point of the resistance against the communists is in Afghanistan.  And the Afghanis are the only people actually shooting at the Russians.  Zvi is willing, but he does not like Gust's know-it-all attitude.  And Zvi doesn't like the idea of working with the Egyptians on the project.  But Egypt also has a large collection of Soviet-made weapons. In fact, Egypt has whatever they need.  In private Gust tells Charle to put a stop to Joanne's public speeches dealing with Afghanistan.  The reason for this is that she makes it sound like a religious war and "America doesn't fight religious wars."

Charlie goes to speak with the President of Pakistan.  The President stresses that the whole project has to remain secret.  He adds:  "If I see one Star of David on a f___ing crate . . ."  Charlie just says:  "I promise."

In Houston Joanne introduces "Houston Salutes President Zia of Pakistan".  When she gives her introduction she says about Zia:  "And he didn't kill Bhutto!" his predecessor.  He had a trial and was found guilty.  Charlie virtually bows his head in embarrassment.  Later he speaks in private with Joanne.  He tells her to dial down the religion.  But Joanne, being a born again Christian, says she will not.  God is on our side and has to always be thanked.  But Charlie just answers that she should stamp down the fervor.  The hope is that they will train 150,000 elite Afghani troops.  The leader is Ahmed Shah Massood.  The only problem is that he's Tajik; not well liked by the Pashtun. 

Charlie needs to get the support of Doc Long (Senator Russell Long of Louisiana, son of the infamous Huey P. Long).  But Long says that he just can't get behind the project.  So Charlie turns to Joanne.  He tells her to call Long and get him on board.  Joanne gives him a call.  She later tells Charlie that Long will get on board with one condition.  It's about the young girl who was raped.  Since she had only one witness instead of the necessary four to prosecute successfully the rapist, she is now set to be executed for committing fornication.  If Charlie can save her, Long will support the project. 

Gust, Charlie and Joanne along with Charlie's staff meet to have a good time in a bar/restaurant.  Charlie gets the news that the case against him has been dropped by Giuliani.  "It is over!" everyone shouts.  Gust unsuccessfully makes a move on Joanne.  As she leaves the restaurant she says to the female staff:  "Sluts!"    

Doc Long is in the refugee camps in Pakistan.  He says it is an eye-opening experience.  Joanne flatters him by saying:  "You will save them!"  Joanne then tells him to go up and speak to the people.  Long says he's too emotional from inspecting the camps.  But Joanne insists.  He gets up there and speaks about the United States providing them with guns and training.  The people are very pleased with his speech. 

The US starts dropping supplies to the Afghan resistance.  At the moment the Soviets still have the upper hand.  What the Afghans need are bigger and more modern weapons.  Charlie gets the budget for Afghanistan to $70 million dollars.  They get MILAN anti-tank weapons for Afghanistan.  The budget increases to $100 million for Afghanistan when Charlie gets the support of the northeast liberals.  The Afghans also obtain anti-aircraft stinger missiles. 

In Afghanistan the Russian helicopter pilots are so relaxed that they talk about women with each other while killing Afghans.  But then two Afghans fire a stinger missile and one of the three helicopters is destroyed in the air.  Another Russian pilot tells his fellow pilot that they have to get out because they have something down there.  Two more missiles take out the remaining two helicopters.  When Charlie gets the news from Bonnie he grabs and then hugs her really hard. 

Spring of 1987

34 Soviet helicopters destroyed

21 fixed wing aircraft destroyed


Summer of 1987

33 Soviet helicopters destroyed

28 fixed wing aircraft destroyed

67 tanks and armored personnel carriers destroyed


Fall of 1987

41 helicopters destroyed

75 tanks and armored personnel carriers destroyed.


Winter of 87-88

22 helicopters destroyed

18 fixed wing aircraft destroyed

83 tanks and armored personnel carriers destroyed.


Henry Holt complains to Craveley about the recent action drawing too much attention to the events in Afghanistan.  Craveley says that whatever Charlie is doing, it's working.  And that's that. 


Spring of 1988

19 helicopters destroyed

22 fixed wing aircraft destroyed

43 tanks and armored personnel carriers destroyed. 


Charlie telephones Joanne late at night.  He congratulates Mrs. Joanne King Herring Davis on her recent marriage.  The budget is up to $500 million for Afghanistan and the Saudis will match that amount bringing the grand total to $1 billion dollars. 

Wilson is re-elected.  Doc Long is not re-elected.  So now John Murtha will replace Long.  He will work well with Charlie, especially since Charlie was his vote on the Ethics Commission. 

April 14, 1988.  The Soviets sign the Geneva Accords ending officially their occupation of Afghanistan.  Afghanistan thus became the first country in history to defeat the Soviet army. 

At a party Joanne says:  "Look what you did, Charlie!"  Charlie is very happy.  But then comes spoil-sport Gust. He says that the crazies have started rolling into Kandahar like it's a f---ing bathtub drain.  Despite the bad news, Charlie gives Gust a big hug. 

Charlie has not forgotten Afghanistan.  He asks for money for the economic repair of that country.   But Charlie hits a brick wall.  "Nobody gives a sh-- about Afghanistan now" says one of the Congressmen.  The war is over.

Charlie says:  "These things happened.  They were glorious and they changed the world . . . and then we f----d up the end game." 


Damn good movie.  Very interesting behind the scenes tale of an important foreign policy decision:   to aid the Afghan resistance against Soviet occupation in a big way.  It's amazing that a womanizer and a drunk from Lufkin, Texas could go behind the scenes and bring this new policy to fruition.  It also interesting how Israel secretly co-operated with the Muslim countries of Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in funneling in big, modern weapons to Afghanistan. There is a lot of history in this movie and very interesting history at that.  The three main actors were all terrific:  Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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