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Charlie Wilson's War
Five Hearts

"Charlie Wilson Has My Vote"

Written by Steven Walker

As a writer and aspiring director, many movies leave me feeling cold because I believe I could have done better myself with the same material.  Charlie Wilson’s War left me feeling pathetic and inadequate.  I am wondering if there are any synonyms for perfect, otherwise this could be a short review.

Aaron Sorkin is one of the great living writers.  His resume includes two classic films (“A Few Good Men,” and “The American President”) and one of the best TV series ever filmed (“The West Wing”).  Who knows what alchemy he works on his pen before he writes, but I have a few suspicions.  First, he has a great ear for how real people talk.  This does not mean the characters in his scripts talk like real people because no one is this clever, this funny, this insightful or this articulate in real life.  What Sorkin does is translate the why people really speak into the way people wish they really spoke.  Secondly, he understands that every single character in a script is a real person with their own history, motivation, and purpose.  He is never content to have a stock character step into frame and deliver expository dialogue.  If such a moment is required, you can guarantee that character will have some trait that makes them memorable or dimensional.

Charlie Wilson is a ladies man.  We first meet him naked in a hot tub with two strippers and a Playboy bunny.  His congressional staff is entirely beautiful women, and they provide supple distraction for anyone waiting to see him.  A lesser writer would leave it at that.  Yet in Sorkin’s hands these characters have a life painted in subtle, corner-of-the-frame details.  They make be hot, but they are damn good at their jobs.  Charlie Wilson may chase after every woman he sees, but he treats them all with respect and adoration.  He never treats his staff as objects, even if he serves them up as such for lesser men.

Another reason Sorkin is so brilliant at political drama is that he is willing to take sides.  I’ve seen too many political movies that sit so profoundly on the fence of anything relevant that we cannot take their drama seriously.  Sorkin is clearly a bleeding heart liberal and he is not afraid to preach it, even in a movie that is ring-wing centric.  

I know a lot of people who have criticized his work for this very reason.  Several of my republican friends refused to watch “The West Wing” because of it.  To me, that is just silly.  I will gladly yield the stage to anyone who has the courage of their convictions and the oratory skill to articulate them.  I may not always agree with what Sorkin has to say, but I am so damned grateful that he is saying something he really cares about.  If real politicians spoke with half the passion of Sorkin’s characters, this country would be much better off.

I don’t need to tell you how great the acting is.  Tom Hanks.  Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Julia Roberts.  Ned Beatty.  Nuff said.

But lest you think this is all Sorkin’s show, remember that a good script is meaningless without a director who can visualize it.  Mike Nichols may be the perfect man for the job because he knows when to let the characters shine and when to give us visual magic.  Whether it is staging the Russian attacks on Afghanistan like a video game or revealing the true scope of the refugee situation, Nichols knows when to add the sauce.

There is something incredible about a movie that can entertain so thoroughly while also educating and enlightening.  When the Afghans get the weapons they need to fight the Russians, it is a moment worthy of celebration.  Neither Sorkin nor Nichols feel the need to add any irony to it because they know we, the audience, will add that on our own.  How many of those weapons were turned against us barely a decade later?  Is it possible that we deserved exactly what we got?  

I lived through the history that is being told here, but I was blind-sided by how little I knew.  I, like most of the country, accepted at face value the claim that Ronald Regan brought about the end of the Cold War.  Imagine my surprise to discover the real credit goes to a drunk Texan.   



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