Charlie Wilson's War


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Good-Time Charlie Wilson was a good ol' Texas boy who spent 24 years in the United States House of Representatives drinkin', fornicatin' and havin' fun unapologetically. He dated beautiful women, hung around with showgirls, hired exceptional beauties ("Charlie's Angels") to work in his office, and maintained an Austin Powers bachelor pad complete with hot tub and omnipresent mirrors. He didn't give a fig for political correctness and had a wicked sense of humor, so he would call serious women "babycakes" and "jailbait" just to get a reaction. On the other hand, he took his responsibilities on the Hill seriously and was well read on most issues. Charlie was the old-fashioned model of a successful American: work hard, play harder. I knew plenty of Charlie Wilsons in my 15 years with a large Texas corporation. The old smooth-talkin' Southern boys believed that their personal entertainment habits were irrelevant to their job performance, except to the extent that small-minded people chose to declare the two matters correlated. In general, that was right. There is no reason why a guy can't get drunk and laid and also succeed in an important career. In fact, the two may be positively correlated. The single most important element which defines high-level success in business and politics is one's ability to get results out of other people, and the Charlie Wilsons of the world are extremely adroit at getting along with people of both sexes. That's what gets them elected. That's what allows them to trade favors so smoothly. That's what gets them laid. Those same skills are universally useful. If Charlie had been in our corporate office, he would have fit right in, and his nickname would have been "Slick." He wouldn't have known which causes to champion, but once he found one he believed in, he would have sold everyone on getting behind it.

The CIA's Gust Avrakotos was just as colorful in his own way. A very different way. While Charlie was polished, Gust was direct and coarse. The son of a Greek immigrant who became a successful soft drink bottler, Gust was an outsider in the CIA's Ivy League culture, a hothead who poisoned his own career several times with ragged insults to top-ranking officials. But Gust had something very important going for him. He actually knew what the fuck he was doing. He had been the valedictorian of his high school class and had graduated from college summa cum laude. He made it a point to know what he was talking about and when he lacked answers he found someone who had them. Unlike the many people in every profession who come to work with an eye on the next job, Gust came to work with an eye on doing his current job as well as it could be done. His job was Afghanistan when he met Congressman Charlie Wilson. Gust was trying to figure out what the United States could do to help the Afghan freedom fighters, a poorly-armed, untrained and rag-tag collection of warriors who were trying to win a war against the unlimited resources of the high-tech Red Army. They were being slaughtered. A million Afghanis were killed in the war. Five million were forced to take refuge across the border. The population of Afghanistan's second largest city, Kandahar, had been reduced from 200,000 before the war to no more than 25,000 inhabitants, following a months-long campaign of carpet bombing and bulldozing by the Soviets in 1987

Gust's budget to help the Afghani freedom fighters was a princely $5 million.

But Charlie held the purse strings. And Gus showed him why they should be loosened.

Many people felt compassion for the Afghanis who were killed, maimed, raped, and forced to flee into refugee camps, but Gust and Charlie were two of the very few men who seemed to realize that the Afghanis might actually have a chance to win if anyone lent them a hand. The fierce warriors were willing to defend their land, but their big problem was that they were riding horses or standing on the ground with AK-47s while the Russians were attacking them with airpower and tanks. Mounting a campaign to acquire anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry, Charlie and Gust managed to raise the regional budget from a few million dollars per year to six hundred million, and they got the Gulf States to match that amount dollar for dollar. They also managed to overcome a major political problem. They could not just give the Afghanis a billion dollars worth of American weapons, because that would escalate the Cold War into a real war. In order to maintain America's deniability, the Russians had to be defeated with Russian weapons. This dilemma required Charlie and Gust to forge an alliance between Israelis (to provide the weapons) and Pakistanis (to deliver them into Afghanistan).

Between the two of them, Gust and Charlie managed to pull off an anti-Soviet miracle far greater than the one on ice. The mighty Soviets eventually lost 118 fixed-wing aircraft, 333 helicopters and 147 tanks. The war became so costly, financially and psychologically, that the Soviet Union eventually pulled out entirely.

The film oversimplifies the situation. It has to in order to tell a good story. It does not tell you that the Soviets had decided to leave long before the events pictured in the film. It does not tell you how the Soviets really lost personnel in Afghanistan. Over the course of the long war, they suffered about a half million casualties:

  • 14,000  ...  killed
  • 50,000  ...  wounded
  • 400,000  .. ill

Yes, "ill."

In many ways, it was the country of Afghanistan itself, not its citizens, which really won the Russian war. (Ironically, that is essentially the same way that Russia defeated its own greatest enemy, Napoleon.) The country's greatest weakness - a total lack of modern sanitation - proved to be its greatest strength in defeating the Russians. Altogether 620,000 Soviets served in Afghanistan, and 415,000 of them came back with a serious disease, mostly hepatitis and typhus. Add that fact to the fact that there didn't seem to be anything gained by being in Afghanistan in the first place, and that Gorbachev himself hated the war even before he took power, and you will see what completely sapped the will of the Soviet people to pursue the war. But ol' Charlie sure helped speed things along, and saved a lot of Afghan lives in the process.

Good-Time Charlie Wilson and coarse Gust Avrakotos didn't cause the collapse of the Soviet Union virtually unassisted, as the movie might lead you to believe, but they did way more than their share, so much more that their story needed to be told. And it's a great yarn. Tom Hanks showed a tremendous amount of savvy in acquiring the rights to this book, because it will be a long time before there will be another real-life story this good, with an equal balance of entertainment, edification and emotional inspiration. Colorful characters like Charlie and Gust are increasingly becoming relics of America's rough-hewn past, and the Soviet Union is gone, and with it the last great symbol of monolithic evil. Charlie Wilson's War is an astounding story, and it is told with great wit, relative accuracy, and no padding. It's so funny and so interesting and so stirring that it seems to fly by in five minutes and you won't even realize you have been educated.

DVD Book


It was nominated for five Golden Globes, including Best Screenplay and  Best Picture, musical or comedy.

3.5 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
3 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
82 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
68 (of 100)

Berardinelli placed it in his annual top ten. I would as well, if I had one.




7.8 IMDB summary (of 10)
B Yahoo Movies





Box Office Mojo. As I type this it has taken in $43 million in 12 days, holding steadily in fourth place throughout two weekends. It will be a hit, albeit no blockbuster.


  • Cyia Batten and Hilary Angelo showed their breast in a hot tub scene. Batten also showed her bare bum as she climbed in.
  • Tom Hanks showed his bum in the same scene.



  • Here is an interesting article on Charlie Wilson
  • Here is the Washington Post's obit for Gust Avrakotos.
  • Here is the other side of the story, if you care to read it. It's a review of the book rather than the movie, but perhaps because of that it lays out a detailed argument.

The counter arguments presented in that article are: (1) Gust Avragotos really screwed up a couple of countries with misplaced sympathies; (2) Charlie Wilson was not just a fun-loving drinker, but a corrupt scoundrel; (3) Their aid to the mujahadeen eventually led on a rather direct path to the past ten years of anti-American terrorism




Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


A historical film with a stirring tale to tell, it manages to do so (fairly) accurately and also to be a great comedy in the process. One of 2007's very best films.