Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Paean To Sexual Harrassment: Charlie Wilson's War

Just got back from Charlie Wilson's War. (And hang tight, there are about eight movies out on my "to see" list--after weeks of scratching to find one worth watching.)

I had read Extreme Mortman's review (via Instapundit) and figured I could risk this politically themed movie, as the subject--America's contribution to the Soviet-Afghanistan war--was of some interest. (EDIT: Actually Karl's review at Protein Wisdom, which looks at some of the more political reactions, was probably more influential.)

What I was immediately struck by was that the movie positively glorified what we now call "sexual harassment". Wilson is introduced to us--after the left end of a bookend scene with a medal ceremony assuring us that the Cold War never would have been won without him--at an '80s strippers 'n' coke party and he staffs his office with gorgeous chicks. Much of the negotiation the Congressmen does involves having sex with women. These things are obliquely referred to however, since the actual act of--well, the actual acts might take some of the sheen off of even Tom Hanks (last seen lending his credibility to The Simpson's Movie's dubious US government).

This part of the movie is fun. Hanks gets to pour on some of the southern charm he marvelously overplayed in the Coen brothers' Ladykillers. The movie picks up real speed when Philip Seymour Hoffman shows up as an offbeat CIA agent, and is humming along nicely when Julia Roberts does her turn as the aging Texan ex-beauty queen who pressures the Congressmen into acting to giving the Afghans armaments. (And unlike the Mortman, I had no trouble hearing either Hanks or Philip Seymour Hoffman, but it'll probably be inaudible in the TV mix.)

For a based-on-a-true-story, this is a rather odd film. The movie wisely avoids partisan politics for the most part, concentrating on the dysfunction of the process--with only a few scenes that (fairly, I'd say) show how the idiosyncrasies of a particular party. For example, Dems are shown backing the aid to Afghanistan for the "tough" street cred. (The CIA takes another huge black eye, though, both for missing the invasion and not backing the resistance.)

It seems, though, that this was partly accomplished by ignoring huge chunks of history. Reagan was referred to once in the movie--and only as "a Republican President". Democrats and media types who were (and still are) sympathetic to communism are completely ignored. The Afghanis themselves are practically props in the acts of heroism of a guy who, when you get down to it, is gonna be okay no matter how things turn out.

The Boy once again encapsulates this in his laconic style: "It was pretty good but it could have grabbed me more."

This complete disconnect from historically significant events means the movie sort of drifts in its second half, devolving into a sort of money/body count (for hardware). And the end veers way to the left, implicating America in the subsequent rise of fanatic Islam. It's almost like--or maybe exactly like--the writer can't stand for America to have done something unequivocally good.

There are a number of things worth bitching about as far as the historical events that actually are portrayed as well. It's really quite challenging to imagine large swaths of the Democratic Left talking about killing Russians with the sort of vigor that is portrayed in this film. At the time, Reagan was soundly mocked for viewing the world in such a simplistic manner.

It's also weird to see the hero engaging in all sorts of sexist activities. Or activities that would be regarded as such today. At least if a Republican did them. This movie sort of makes you wonder why we have all those laws, all that grab-ass looks like fun for all involved.

Anyway, I give points to the film for showing that grassroots Reps were involved and concerned, and for showing that the Communists fielded a vicious army that routinely and deliberately engaged in the sorts of atrocities that a few outliers in the US Army commit (and are punished for).

It shouldn't be noteworthy but it is. I can't think of the last American film that portrayed the Soviets (and their satellite governments) as the horrors they were. Or any American film, come to think of it. (Das Leben Der Anderen should be required viewing for anyone who wants to push centralized economic planning. And even it's mild.)

Overall a flawed but fairly entertaining movie, especially if you're not too wrapped up in historical accuracy. Sort of a left wing Red Dawn. Top-notch acting. (I'm not a big Julia Roberts fan; this was probably my favorite of her work. Also, while I love Hoffman, he can veer toward the precious, and this was a nice switch from Before The Devil Knows You're Dead. ) Mike Nichols doesn't dawdle or have characters engage in lengthy speeches: Evil is shown and we're expected to recognize it as such.

It may not do well, of course. People are already sick of politics as we enter this election year, or so it seems. But in this year of highly political bombs, you could do worse.

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