Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
One way or another, there seems to be sunshine behind every cloud in Mike Nichols' films. And even if he is being serious and as frank as can be, never so without a smile or a joyous undertone. I guess what he tries to tell us is that at the end of the day, it's just life. We should sit back, have a look at ourselves and laugh a little. And if we're lucky, we might learn something as well.
Charlie Wilson's War is a film that invites us to sit back and take a look at ourselves - a political comedy with personal perspectives. It's allegorical, but it doesn't have to be - meaning that it works just as well without the present context. The good thing about this film, is that it delivers the goods, no matter what your inclination is. It starts out without bias and ends without judgement (but perhaps a little more wisdom) an hour and a half later. And in the meantime, Nichols has been able to present a shamelessly comprehensive political and diplomatic elucidation without ever threatening to wear us out. With no disrespect to Robert Redford and his Lions for Lambs, this particular achievement is something he cannot compete with. In my book, Mike Nichols is one of a few working directors who has fully grasped how to mix the humorous with the serious: He doesn't create what's fun, he embraces it - much like we do in real life. And then he moves on to the next issue on today's agenda.
And that issue is the cold war, 1980, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The story about Charlie Wilson, which is based on true events, shows how a seemingly unimportant congressman started the operations which eventually led to the Soviet retreat in Afghanistan and ultimately the end of the cold war. Why isn't Wilson more famous if this account is truthful? The keyword is diplomacy, and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (who is renowned for knowing a thing or two about these mechanisms) shows how the cog wheels of power are a little more circumstantial and a little less predetermined than one would think. We all know that there are many sides to every story, and this is both honoured and admonished in this crisp and extremely tightly directed film.
The current world situation has fuelled a number of political films lately - and rightly so. In order to be of any real value, it is cardinal that such films are unbiased and exhibit a sense of balance. Charlie Wilson's War is rare in this matter. There is no doubt that the title character himself is a patriot on behalf of his country, but that doesn't mean his actions are necessarily patriotically motivated. They are actually rather incidental. Because Charlie Wilson, like most actors in foreign politics, is deeply flawed, and he doesn't necessary see the scope of his deeds. It is easy to be wise in retrospect, but as Charlie Wilson's War points out, only filmmakers have that luxury.