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Charlie Wilson's War (film)

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Charlie Wilson's War
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMike Nichols
Screenplay byAaron Sorkin
Based onCharlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History
by George Crile
Produced byTom Hanks
Gary Goetzman
CinematographyStephen Goldblatt
Edited byJohn Bloom
Antonia Van Drimmelen
Music byJames Newton Howard
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 21, 2007 (2007-12-21)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$75 million
Box office$119.5 million[1]

Charlie Wilson's War is a 2007 American biographical comedy-drama film based on the story of U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson and CIA operative Gust Avrakotos, whose efforts led to Operation Cyclone, a program to organize and support the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet–Afghan War (1979–1989).

The film was directed by Mike Nichols (his final film) 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. It stars Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, with Amy Adams and Ned Beatty in supporting roles. It earned five nominations at the 65th Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and Hoffman earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the 80th Academy Awards.



In 1980, Congressman Charlie Wilson, an East Texas Democrat, is more interested in partying than legislating, frequently throwing huge galas and staffing his congressional office with attractive young women. His social life eventually brings about a federal investigation into allegations of his cocaine use, conducted by federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani as part of a larger investigation into congressional misconduct. The investigation results in no charge against Wilson.

A friend and romantic interest, Joanne Herring, Houston socialite, political activist, diplomat, and television talk show host, encourages Charlie to do more to help the Afghan people, and persuades him 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 Wilson visit a major Pakistan-based Afghan refugee camp. The Congressman 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. Wilson returns home to lead an effort to substantially increase funding to the mujahideen.

As part of this effort, Charlie befriends maverick CIA operative Gust Avrakotos and his understaffed Afghanistan group to find a better strategy, especially including a means to counter the Soviets' formidable Mil Mi-24 Hind 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. As a result, Charlie's deft political bargaining for the necessary funding and Avrakotos' 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. Charlie enlists the support of Israel and Egypt for Soviet weapons and consumables, and Pakistan for distribution of arms. 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 states that senior Pentagon official Michael Pillsbury persuaded President Ronald Reagan to provide the Stingers to the Afghans.

Gust vehemently advises Charlie to seek support for post-Soviet occupation Afghanistan, referencing the "zen master's" story of the lost horse. He also emphasizes that rehabilitating schools in the country will help educate young children before they are influenced by the "crazies". Charlie attempts to appeal this with the government but finds no enthusiasm for even the modest measures he proposes. In the end, Charlie receives a major commendation for his support of the U.S. clandestine services, but his pride is tempered by his fears of the blowback his secret efforts could yield in the future and the implications of U.S. disengagement from Afghanistan.



Release and reception


Box office


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 No. 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


On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 82% based on 205 reviews, with an average rating of 7.00/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Charlie Wilson's War manages to entertain and inform audiences, thanks to its witty script and talented cast of power players."[3] Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 67 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[4] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.[5]

Governmental criticism and praise


Some Reagan Era officials, including former Under Secretary of Defense Fred Ikle, have criticized some elements of the film. The Washington Times reported claims that the film wrongly promotes the notion that the CIA-led operation funded Osama bin Laden and ultimately produced the September 11 attacks; however, other Reagan-era officials have been more supportive of the film.[6] Michael Johns, the former foreign policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation 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."[7]

Russian reception


In February 2008, it was revealed that the film would not release 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."[8][9]

Historical accuracy


Mujahideen support


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.[6] As such, they were actually not supplied until 1987, during the second Reagan term, and their provision was advocated mostly by Reagan defense officials and influential conservatives.[10][11]

Happy ending


According to Melissa Roddy, a Los Angeles film maker with inside information from the production, the film's happy ending where Wilson receives an award came about because Tom Hanks did not feel comfortable with an original draft which ended on a scene featuring the September 11 attacks.[12] 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".[13]

Academic research


The book and the film based on it are mostly rated negatively in terms of historical accuracy.

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) is amusing but has only an intermittent connection with historical reality.[14]

— Rodric Braithwaite, Afgantsy (2011)

George Crile's magnificent book Charlie Wilson's War, and the movie that was made from it, is an excellent account, but it is told from the perspective of one Texas congressman and tends to distort his importance.[15]

— Bruce Riedel, What We Won (2014)

George Crile's Charlie Wilson's War has been made into a film, and features the same degree of fantasy and escapism as Rambo III, which was also set in the Soviet-Afghan War.[16]

— Robert Johnson, The Afghan Way of War (2012)



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 (National Intelligence Estimate) that shows the crazies are rolling into Kandahar." As he says this, the sound of jet airliners soar overhead, a premonition of the coming 9/11 attacks.

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.[17]

In 2008, Canadian journalist Arthur Kent sued the makers of the film, claiming that they had used material he produced in the 1980s without obtaining the proper authorization.[18] 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.[19]


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[20] 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

Home media


The film was released on DVD on April 22, 2008.[21]


  1. ^ a b "Charlie Wilson's War (2007)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  2. ^ "Charlie Wilson's War (2007) - Weekend Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-05-02.
  3. ^ "Charlie Wilson's War (2007)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 17, 2022.
  4. ^ "Charlie Wilson's War reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 2010-06-25. Retrieved 2007-12-21.
  5. ^ "CinemaScore". Archived from the original on 2002-09-14. Retrieved 2020-07-18.
  6. ^ a b Gertz, Bill (December 21, 2007). "Charlie's Movie". The Washington Times. Archived from the original on December 24, 2007. Retrieved July 18, 2020.
  7. ^ Johns, Michael (January 19, 2008). "Charlie Wilson's War Was Really America's War". Blogger. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  8. ^ Александра Шевелева (2008-03-18). "BBC: A film not for everybody (in Russian)". BBC News. Retrieved 2013-06-29.
  9. ^ Bierbaum, Tom (February 10, 2008). "'Charlie' won't play in Russia". Variety. Retrieved April 11, 2008.
  10. ^ Sageman, Marc (2004). Understanding Terror Networks. Vol. 7. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 5–8. ISBN 9780812238082. PMID 15869076. understanding terrorist networks sageman. {{cite book}}: |journal= ignored (help)
  11. ^ "Did the U.S. "Create" Osama bin Laden?". US Department of State. January 14, 2005. Archived from the original on March 10, 2005. Retrieved March 28, 2007.
  12. ^ Johnson, Chalmers (2010). Dismantling the Empire. Metropolitan Books. p. 90. ISBN 978-0805093032.
  13. ^ Alford, Matthew (2010). Reel Power: Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy. London, England: Pluto Press. p. 81. ISBN 9780745329833.
  14. ^ Braithwaite, Rodric (2011). Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979–1989. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 384. ISBN 978-0-19-983265-1.
  15. ^ Riedel, Bruce (2014). What We Won: America's Secret War in Afghanistan, 1979–1989. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press. p. XVI. ISBN 978-0-8157-2595-4.
  16. ^ Johnson, Robert (2012). The Afghan Way of War: How and Why They Fight. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 307. ISBN 978-0-19-979856-8.
  17. ^ Crile, George (2003). Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. New York City: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0-87113-854-9.
  18. ^ Hartley, Matt (April 26, 2008). "Charlie Wilson's intellectual-property war". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved August 16, 2013.
  19. ^ Droganes, Constance (September 19, 2008). "Arthur Kent settles suits over 'Charlie Wilson's War'". CTV News. Retrieved August 16, 2013.
  20. ^ "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.
  21. ^ "Charlie Wilson's War". DVDactive. Archived from the original on 2011-11-27. Retrieved 2008-02-10.