Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

From the Folks That Brought you the Taliban and 9-11

I'll say it, because the film-makers obviously couldn't. Or wouldn't. Or felt they shouldn't.

But look at these film-makers: A trio of top-stars (Tom Hanks--who also produced, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman), screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (he of "The West Wing") and director Mike Nichols, who excels at bringing the best out of good material.

How did they all fail so miserably with "Charlie Wilson's War?"

It seems like a slam-dunk (if you'll excuse the term)for a knock-about satire about the excesses and low-lifes of the government, where they spell "class" with a capitol "K" street, and prove daily that they haven't dredged enough muck out of the swamp-land that was Washington, D.C. And it couldn't be a better story, because, by and large, this story really happened.

A Texas Congressman named Charlie Wilson, the definition of what Sorkin used to call "an empty suit" on television, presides over a district that doesn't want much, so he's free to wheel and deal, doling out favors and votes to his fellow congressmen, drinking like a fish, "canvassing" all sorts of female constituents, facing questions of ethics violations, and staffing his office with bimbos ("Charlie says you can teach 'em to type, but you can't teach 'em how to grow tits," says his receptionist, cheerily). One day he looks up from his hot-tub of Playmates to see Dan Rather on the news wondering why no one will send the Mujahadin weapons to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. So, with the the help of a schlumpfy CIA Agent with impulse-control problems (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and a dragon-lady of a Republican anti-communist lobbyist (Julia Roberts), Wilson wrangles his way through various walk-and-talks securing surface-to-air missiles for the Afghanis. His efforts drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan, and (in a gross oversimplification of the precariousness of the Soviet State), bring an end to the Evil Empire.

This is great satirical fodder, but it's peddled by Sorkin and Nichols for the occasional one-liner, but no outrage--bunts, but no home-runs--and it's presented as if it's just one more day in that wacky viper-pit that is Our Government at Work. More offensive is the sequences of combat, with Russian helicopters strafing civilians like its a video-game, and footage of Russian helicopters being blasted out of the sky with a rousing boo-yah score, cross-cut with the celebrating politico's slapping each other on the back. And it's all presented without the bat of an outraged eye or the wink of conspiracy.

These guys (the film-makers) seem to think the trafficking of arms through Congressional channels is a Good Thing, as long as the Right Guys are being aimed at, and the only attempt to link the ending of the Afghanistan War with the rise of the Taliban and the harboring of Al Qaida is a veiled reference to not providing funding for schools after the conflict that in Wilson's words "fuck(ed) up the endgame." The REAL Wilson (pictured right) has also expressed worry that one day one of those missiles will be used against American planes (if they haven't already been used in our own Afghan conflict). But Nichols and Sorkin won't go there. Instead, they'll book-end their movie with Wilson recieving an award for the "Most Successful Covert Operation in History," staged in a cavernous airplane hangar with the applause of the many co-conspirators in the plan. It all sounds so neat and self-congratulatory, when the story is so up-to-its-eyeballs in chicanery, wheeler-dealing, and compromised ethics and principals.

Imagine if the story was told with the same savage wit of a "Dr. Strangelove," or "Wag the Dog" instead of the cynical "shucks, ain't they bastards" attitude of Sorkin (and let's face it, judging from "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," he sucks at satire), but I suppose to even get the story filmed, it had to meet the approval of the participants, who are all very much still alive. Given that stipulation, I guess one should be grateful they weren't all outfitted with halos. In the end for all its slickness and hipness, its still a cowardly movie.

I remember when "West Wing" was on the air, a Republican Congressman explained why he loved the show--"Everybody is smart, funny, and semi-effectual, instead of the truth." Sums up "Charlie Wilson's War," too.

"Charlie Wilson's War" is a rental.

No comments: