What a strange film this is! Superbly acted and directed, enormously entertaining, but oddly thin and bloodless. Ostensibly this is the "true" story of congressman Charlie Wilson's role in the 1980s Afghan War – but don't expect a realistic piece of historiography. At times this feels like little more than a cheerful romp, portraying Wilson (Hanks) as a lovable rogue with a heart of gold. The truth, of course, is rather creepier.
I kept waiting for the shadows and darkness of this story to come to the foreground and flood its champagne-fizz brightness. But they never did. There are a few hints at possible future "unforeseen consequences" (elegantly expressed by CIA man Gust Avrakotos (Hoffman)'s Zen story about a boy with a horse). And if you watch the film with such issues in mind, there are other subtle references too. But frankly, these feel awfully muted and restrained, as though the film-makers were going to great lengths to avoid controversy and keep things fun.
Which makes this article in on AlterNet very interesting indeed, with its allegations that the screenplay was toned down (and made less accurate) because
…Tom Hanks "just can't deal with this 9/11 thing"; and because Wilson and Joanne Herring (played by Julia Roberts in the movie) threatened legal action after reading an earlier, more honest, draft of the screenplay….
This piece on Joanne Herring in the Observer adds to this picture of a neutered film:
Not only was [Herring] instrumental in convincing Mr. Wilson to arm the Afghani soldiers against the Russians, she was able to force Hollywood to edit certain scenes from the film.
Most significantly, to her thinking, she had any scenes where her character used a four-letter word removed. “I’m a Christian and that’s very important to me,” she said. “So I had them taken out.” Ms. Herring declined to discuss which of Ms. Roberts’ lines in particular were edited. “Let’s don’t talk about them,” she said Well, maybe just a little: “There was one where I passed the Charlie’s Angels and said, ‘Sluts.’ I was good friends with the Charlie’s Angels. I would never call them sluts because they weren’t.”
According to a Dec. 12 report in The Daily News, Ms. Herring and Congressman Wilson—and a gang of high-powered attorneys—were also successfully able to eradicate any suggestion that their little war was somehow responsible for 9/11.
The real story behind this film is extremely dark indeed. As you would expect, considering the real-life Wilson's other claims to fame include being a firm supporter of the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua and a paid lobbyist for both Israeli gun makers and the military regime in Pakistan. A lovable rogue indeed…?