I know a lot of people groaned when the movie started showing trailers, but I gotta tell you, it's a lot more entertaining (and funny) than you'd expect given the relatively grave subject matter. Sure, it can probably be considered "liberal Hollywood propaganda," but it is intended to be a dumbed down version of the book. I've read that there are also references to the book Ghost Wars, which documents the covert operations of the CIA in manipulating and changing much of the world outside.
Regardless of the politics or historical accuracy, Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is the money man behind the secretly US-funded weapons and training to Afghan rebels in the 80's who drove the Soviets out. He was largely a nobody Congressman who loved women and alcohol. According to the story, he was moved to take up the Afghans' cause by the influence and money of Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts). Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the CIA guy Gust who makes things happen on the other side of the world (and for the first time ever, he not only failed to annoy me, but I thought he was brilliant).
The dialog is really funny and interesting, and to see Hanks' character bullshitting with Pakistani warlords is absolutely priceless. I'm sure the real-life version of these meetings was hardly funny, but I laughed my ass off. Greatest line: Wilson: "You don't look like James Bond." Gust: "Well you're no fucking Thomas Jefferson."
The real payoff comes at the end when you see where the politics really come into play, and how the movie is essentially an indictment of the current war in Iraq. Once the "regime change" has been accomplished, there is no plan. While laboring for a half-billion dollars to help the Afghans liberate themselves, he can't get even a million to rebuild a school in the country. Sound familiar? It also suggests that the chaos we left in Afghanistan would have consequences, which not-so-subtly suggests the reason for Afghanistan being the safe haven for terrorists today.
Regardless of the accuracy of the film, I certainly do agree with its politics. We do choose to make radical change in the world, but fail to think it through or understand the consequences. Despite the simplicity of the screenplay, it actually makes me think about the complexity in these conflicts, especially in that region of the world. I remember my very Republican boss in 2003, when the Iraq War started, saying, "We have to show them they can't keep this up." I'm not sure who "they" are or what "this" is, but it has been the theme among a lot of Americans since we started this. People connect dots across the many issues of the Middle East without seeing that there's no line to draw, and therefore we should just blow something up. It's like we needed something to do since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Like I said, Hoffman was brilliant. The supporting cast was solid as well, including Enchanted's Amy Adams as Wilson's assistant. I was surprised to see Rachel Nichols as one of the staffers (see was the would-be replacement for Jennifer Garner if Alias wouldn't have been cancelled).
Sidebar: Saw a preview for a new Ryan Reynolds movie called "Definitely, Maybe" coming out in 2008 with Abigail Breslin. What is it about that kid that you can't resist? It also caught my eye because it has a bunch of actresses that represent my generation well, including Elizabeth Banks ("Miri" in Kevin Smith's forthcoming "Porno"), Rachel Weisz (voice-over in Revenge of The Mummy in-ride audio, and some movies) and Isla Fisher (psycho/horny sister in Wedding Crashers).