Sex, Patriotism, Skullduggery Part of Charlie Wilson’s War

Eric Rice

DVD Release Date:  April 22, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  December 21, 2007
Rating:  R (for strong language, nudity/sexual content and some drug use)
Genre:  Drama/Dark Comedy/Adaptation
Run Time:  90 minutes
Director:  Mike Nichols
Actors:  Tom Hanks, Amy Adams, Julie Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Terry Bozeman, Brian Markinson, Jud Tylor, Hilary Angelo, Cyia Batten, Daniel Eric Gold, Emily Blunt, and Peter Gerety

Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is a very flawed, single congressman from “The Great State of Texas.” His goals in life are:  get reelected, have as much sex with as many women as possible, drink alcohol at every occasion and at any time of day, snort cocaine and help run the country.

Based on a true story, Charlie Wilson’s War shows how Charlie has very few allies until his middle-aged, ultra right-wing conservative, Christian part-time-lover, millionairess girlfriend Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) decides to put on charity events to raise money for the Mujahedin freedom fighters in Afghanistan.

In the 1980s, the Russians invaded Afghanistan and began systematically killing anyone who stood in their way of “owning” that country.  There was a real threat to the stability of the Middle East if Russia continued their advance toward the Persian Gulf.  At the time, the U.S. government was taking notice but wallowed in indecision.

Joanne, with a religious fervor (“I’m a Christian, and I love Jesus”) and knowing that Charlie is on the sub-committees overseeing the Clandestine Operations, prods him to pick up the cause and get more funding for the CIA.

Charlie, now awoken to the cause of Afghanistan, begins a serious campaign to raise money for the rebels.  Meanwhile, his wild ways (girls, booze, coke) have made him a target of a legal action.  (On a side note, every one of Charlie’s helpers, clerks, assistants, and even his on-staff attorney look like they stepped out of an underwear catalog, and boy do we see a lot of them and their underwear!)

On Joanne's urging, Charlie takes a trip to Pakistan to see the refugee camps for himself. His selfish playboy ways crash to the ground when he is touched by the sight of armless wounded children and grieving widows.

Charlie comes back to Washington and meets an acerbic, pot-bellied, sharp-tongued, bitter CIA field agent Gust Avrakotos (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who is heading up operations against the Russians and is frustrated that there is no funding.  Soon, with the help of Gust, Charlie is brokering deals between Israel, Pakistan, and Egypt to get arms in the Mujahedin’s hands. The only problem? Everything they are doing is completely illegal 

At first the two men are like oil and water, but once Gust realizes that the goofy, playboy congressman really wants to help—along with Joanne—a strange friendship is born that ends up being very powerful with fantastic results. But ultimately, Charlie is emotionally defeated by the lack of interest in the government in helping re-build the country, specifically hospitals.

Charlie Wilson’s War begins and ends with Charlie getting a special award from the clandestine services with Joanne and Gust in the audience. A quote on the screen (with an un-printable word) reads that “we” do great things for other people/countries, then leave without finishing the job.

Directed by Mike Nichols, this film has first-rate everything. The acting is flawless and powerful, and the sets, music and special effects are great. There are laugh-out-loud moments and tearful ones, too.  But once again, Hollywood paints Christians as hypocritical fanatics on the fringe, except this time one has too much power, money and influence for her own good.

All in all, it’s a fascinating story of insider politics and war, but unfortunately the movie has an R rating for nudity and violence. It could easily have been toned down to a PG-13 and had a much wider audience.


  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Many scenes of drinking, one scene of cocaine use. 
  • Language:  Extensive cursing.  Sailors would blush. 
  • Sex and Nudity:  Topless women in hot tub, many references to sex.
  • Violence:  Exploding helicopters, tanks, villagers being machine-gunned by helicopters.
  • Worldview:  Humanistic with over-the-top Christian rhetoric.