Monday, February 11, 2008

Texans in Afghanistan

Having seen the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men (not a bad effort, but definitely overrated) recently, Charlie Wilson's War is the second film I've seen this year in which the main characters are Texans. Quite appropriate realy as a ral life Texan in a position of power will be out of a job soon!

Set in the 1980s during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Tom Hanks is the title role, a Texan congressman with a taste for whisky, women and cocaine, the unlikely hero (or antihero perhaps?) whose successful lobbying and diplomacy helps arm the Mujahadin and force the withdrawal of the Soviet military their country.

What ensues is a tangled web of unlikely allies with the Americans, Israelis, Saudis, Egyptians and Pakistanis collaborating to fund a covert war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Wilson forging an alliance with the then Pakistani president General Zia is one of the more revealing aspects of the story.

There's a strong supporting cast with Julia Roberts as Wilson's part time mistress, a Texan millionaire with sympathies towards the Afghan cause and Philip Seymour Hoffman a CIA operative specialising in Afghanistan.
The arid mountainous landscapes of Morocco successfully resemble Afghanistan, as was the case in a Timothy Dalton James Bond. (Yes, I'm one of those obsessive anoraks who stay behind to read the end credits).

There is effective use of CGI effects in portraying explosions intermingled with actual archive footage from the time of the Soviet occupation. The "bad guys" are clearly the Russians. Scenes of Russian helicopters massacring Afghan civilians by bombing entire towns helps enforce this perception. What the Soviets did in Afghanistan cannot be condoned of course, but the film ignores the fact that the US militaty was doing similar things in Vietnam and Nicaragua. However, one wonders if there is an element of political satire here.

The topicality of the film is omnipresent in that it alludes subtly to the events of present day Afghanistan, not to mention Iraq. It is heavily hinted at towards the finish that the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan is far from the end of trouble in the region. Like a vicious circle the Americans arm the Afghans to fight and defeat the Russians, a scenario which eventually leads to the Taliban coming to power, the events of September 11 2001 and the ongoing "war on terror".


Chekov said...

Have you seen the Diving Bell and the Butterfly cw? I would recommend it wholeheartedly.

CW said...

I wasn't terribly enthusiastic about it at first, Chekov, but having read the review on your blog I'm very tempted to go and see it.

I'm still in two minds about whether to see "There will be blood". I know it's had rave reviews, but I still have my doubts! Any thoughts?

Chekov said...

I do intend to see it although I know what you mean about the reviews. They've been very enthusiastic, but I get very little concrete impression of what the film might be like from them. There's a chance it might be overhyped, pretentious rubbish I suppose, but that's the chance you take. Strangely I've yet to actually find anywhere showing the film, although I thought it was released last week. In Belfast QFT aren't showing it until the end of March as far as I can make out.

CW said...

The good old QFT! It brings back memories of my student days! It was practically a second home during my final year at Queen's. I've been in the bar area since it was done up - a far cry from my student days when you had to go down an alley to get to the main entrance!

There's a similar cinema near me in London, the Phoenix, East Finchley, one of London's older cinemas, I believe with quite a bit of history behind it. I much prefer going there than to the multiplex down the road where you nearly need to take out a mortgage to buy coke in cups the size of a bucket and popcorn that tastes like polystyrene. You can't beat the small independent cinemas for class and atmosphere.