An all-star cast does not necessarily guarantee success in a film. Nor does a reputable director always live up to expectations.
But in Mike Nichols’ latest movie, Charlie Wilson’s War, starring Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts, the stars are in alignment.
The beauty of Charlie Wilson’s War, set shortly after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, lies in its ability to fuse Cold War politics with bedroom antics and the savagery of war with high idealism.
That all these disparate elements connect in seamless fashion is in no small part due to Nichols, his accomplished actors and Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter.
Hanks plays Charlie Wilson, a morally flawed but likeable Texas congressman-cum-womanizer who wants to help Muslim fighters oust the Soviet army from Afghanistan. Roberts, portraying a rich socialite who sleeps her way around Capitol Hill, encourages him. Hoffman, a dishevelled and smart Central Intelligence Agency spook whose views coincide with Wilson’s, masterminds the covert scheme to defeat the Soviets.
At the heart of this entertaining film is Wilson’s effort to enlist pro-American allies in the general region – Pakistan, Israel and Egypt – to assist the mujahedeen.
Israel and Egypt will provide the Soviet-made weaponry the Islamic freedom fighters desperately need to turn the tide of battle.
Pakistan will allow the Afghans the use of its territory to funnel the military equipment to their bases. Keenly alert to Muslim sensitivities, Pakistan’s president, played by Indian actor Om Puri, archly insists that Israel’s shipments should not be marked with a Star of David.
Charlie Wilson’s War unfolds in Washington, Pakistan, Egypt and Israel. The single Israeli scene takes place in an outdoor café in Jerusalem. There, within sight of the golden dome of the Temple Mount, Wilson – a legislator with a pro-Israel record in Congress despite the virtual absence of Jews in his district – convinces a senior Mossad operative to funnel the weapons to the Afghans.
Whether Israel ever donated or sold weapons to the mujahedeen – who morphed into the Taliban –is irrelevant. What counts here is that Israel, Egypt and Pakistan have a common interest in striking a blow for liberty and weakening the Soviet Union.
Unfortunately, once the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan, Islamic radicals filled the vacuum, the United States having had no interest in assisting the Afghan to rebuild their country. This is the message that rings loud and clear in Charlie Wilson’s War.