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".