|Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman
based on George Crile's book "Charlie Wilson's War"
July 9, 1956
Birthplace: Concord, California, USA
Born: June 1, 1933
Birthplace: Trinity, Texas, USA
Death: February 10, 2010, Lufkin, Texas (cardiopulmonary arrest)
October 28, 1967
Birthplace: Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Born: July 3, 1929
Birthplace: Houston, Texas, USA
||Philip Seymour Hoffman
July 23, 1967
Birthplace: Fairport, New York, USA
Birthplace: Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, USA
"The U.S. had nothing whatsoever to do with these people's decision to fight ... But we'll be damned by history if we let them fight with stones." -Charlie Wilson (from George Crile's Biography, See Right)
Questioning the Story:
Why did Charlie Wilson want to help the people of Afghanistan?
Despite being liberal on social issues, Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson was a fervent anticommunist. After being urged by Houston socialite Joanne Herring, Charlie agreed to visit the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. He made his first trip to Islamabad, Pakistan in the fall of 1982. He met with President Zia (a meeting
that had been arranged by Joanne Herring), and he visited the Afghan refugee camps and hospitals in northern Pakistan, which were home to approximately 3 million Afghans. Charlie Wilson's biography suggests that he was deeply moved when he visited the children, many of whom had been maimed by Soviet land mines and weapons, including the ominous Mi-24 Hind Helicopter. "I left those hospitals determined that as long as I had a breath in my body and was a member of Congress, that I was gonna do what I could to make the Soviets pay for what
they were doing" (The Real Charlie, CharlieWilsonsWar.net). The Soviets had killed an estimated 10% of the population of Afghanistan in three years time. By the end of the war in Afghanistan, the Soviets had
taken the lives of more than 1,000,000 Afghans. Each time that Charlie had visited the refugee camps and hospitals, he donated blood to help those suffering. -History Channel, The True Story of Charlie Wilson
Is Charlie Wilson's War a round-a-bout attempt to provide an opinion on present day politics?
After a TIME magazine interviewer implied that the movie's depiction of the US involvement in Afghanistan directly relates to the US in Iraq, Tom Hanks corrected him by saying,
"This isn't about Iraq. ...Charlie Wilson's War is about something happening in 1980." Hanks obviously wants to avoid having his film associated with the recent string of left wing Iraq flavored box office failures.
For the most part, the movie is not about Iraq, but a postscript to the movie quotes the real Charlie Wilson as saying, "We f---ed up the endgame." Mr. Wilson is referring to how the Mujahedeen, who the US supplied with weapons in Afghanistan, eventually flowered into the Taliban and backed Osama bin Laden's war against the US. This brief criticism of US foreign policy left liberal critics of the film disappointed that the movie did not
emphasize this point more strongly. Newsweek critic David Ansen asks of the filmmakers, "Is this admirable restraint or cold feet? Are they afraid of spoiling the feel-good uplift of Charlie's victory with the harsh downdraft of history? It's as if Titanic ended with a celebratory shipboard banquet, followed by a postscript: by the way, it sank."
Tom Hanks, who purchased the rights to George Crile's biography, Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times, stated during a November 2007 Oprah interview, "I think Charlie Wilson is a fascinating example of how things can get done from the oddest quarters.
That you would jump to a conclusion, that you would adhere to a stereotype about a no-good do nothing guy from a little section of Texas that doesn't mean anything, and in fact a guy like that can change the world, which is an example to all of us quite frankly."
Perhaps Hanks is eluding to another obvious political statement that the movie is trying to make, that an elected official with a moral compass worse than that of Bill Clinton can still get things done. In this way, the movie is reminiscent of the 2000 drama The Contender starring Joan Allen, which attempted to separate a sexual orgy in a woman's past from her ability to do her job in office. That film was released a month before the US presidential election that came directly after the scandalous years of Bill Clinton.
Similarly, Charlie Wilson's War comes on the eve of a presidential election year, this time involving Bill Clinton's wife Hillary as a candidate. Is it only a coincidence then that actor and producer Tom Hanks, a supporter of Hillary Clinton's (he has contributed $2,300 to her presidential campaign) has made an effort to focus on the film's ability to see past Charlie Wilson's moral flaws (CNN.com)?
Did the original screenplay end with a shot of the Pentagon in flames?
Yes. The real Charlie Wilson and Joanne Herring succeeded in having parts of the movie's script omitted, which had suggested that they were responsible for seeding the events of September 11, 2001. This included a shot of the Pentagon in flames at the end of Aaron Sorkin's original screenplay. When she first read the script,
Texas socialite Joanne Herring says that she "practically choked." She and Charlie Wilson were aghast at the screenplay's implications that they had abetted Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. "Can you ever predict a war?" Joanne argues. "The shelf life of a Stinger missile is five years. There's no weapon we got them that can be used today." Herring and Wilson brought in famed Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin, who helped pressure Universal and the producers to change the script. -NY Daily News
I heard Rudy Giuliani's name mentioned in the movie, what role did he play in the Charlie Wilson real story?
It is likely no coincidence that the movie more than once mentions 2008 Republican Candidate Rudy Giuliani's fight, as part of a Justice Department investigation, to convict Congressman Charlie Wilson. Then a famed-prosecutor and U.S. Attorney from the Southern District of New York,
Rudy Giuliani headed a 1986 ethical investigation into the Texas Congressman's supposed drug use in a Las Vegas hot tub, a conviction that could have jeopardized Wilson's ability to get weapons into the hands of the Afghans. Giuliani's ethical harassment of Charlie Wilson becomes a punch line in the movie. Contrarily, the movie casts Democrats like John Murtha in a positive light.
How did the real life Joanne Herring become involved with Afghanistan?
In the movie Charlie Wilson's War, Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) sets up a meeting between Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) and President Zia of Pakistan. The meeting proves effective after Charlie visits wounded and starving Afghans living in refugee camps in Northern Pakistan. What he sees further ignites his existing hatred toward the Soviet Union, inspiring him to demand an increase in the defense appropriations for Afghanistan. In real life, Joanne Herring served as honorary consul to both Pakistan and Morocco. This
is how she developed connections in the region. Joanne was also a conservative Houston socialite, political activist, businesswoman, and former talk show host. Her friendships with politicians like future Secretary of State James Baker added to her political influence.
How did Joanne Herring convince Charlie Wilson to help the Afghan rebels?
In the movie, Joanne (Julia Roberts) invites Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) to a party at her house, where she has sex with him in order to help persuade him to find a way to get more money appropriated for Afghanistan. Charlie Wilson's biography reveals that Charlie and Joanne were dating in 1980.
In fact, for a short time they were engaged to be married, suggesting that Joanne Herring's influence over Charlie was more significant than a random act of intimacy. -Biography.com
Did Gust Avrakotos first meet Wilson on the day Wilson learned he was being investigated?
No. In the movie, we see Congressman Charlie Wilson's well-endowed secretaries running in and out of Wilson's office, humorously interrupting his meeting with Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman). The true story behind Charlie Wilson's War reveals that Charlie and Gust did not meet until later, when Wilson approached the CIA to inquire about better weapons for the Afghans. -SuburbanChicagoNews.com
Did Gust Avrakotos really tell his CIA boss to f**k off?
Yes. According to the History Channel documentary, The True Story of Charlie Wilson, this part of the movie is mostly true. As in the movie, Gust met with his boss after he mistakenly thought an apology was coming his way. After realizing that his boss was expecting the same thing, Gust told him to f**k off a second time. However, the real story behind Charlie Wilson's War has yielded no evidence to suggest that Gust breaking the window actually happened. It is likely a mere element of humor added for the movie.
After this less than cordial meeting, Gust received a sort of demotion and didn't have much to work on. As in the film, Gust was having lunch in the cafeteria when a colleague presented him with the opportunity to become a case officer for Charlie Wilson. Helping the Afghans appealed to Gust's hatred for the Soviets.
How did a non-ivy league, blue-collar kid like Gust Avrakotos ever make it to the CIA?
Gust Avrakotos grew up in the small town of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, where, as stated in the movie, his father manufactured his own soda pop. To earn money for college, Gust briefly worked at the nearby Jones & Laughlin Steel mill, and he sold cigarette machines to local social clubs and ethnic taverns.
Gust majored in economics at the University of Pittsburgh, where he graduated summa cum laude. A professor at the university encouraged him to look into a career in the CIA (Beaver County Times). Gust Avrakotos joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1962, just after the Agency began recruiting agents from beyond its Ivy League training grounds (WashingtonPost.com).
Were Charlie Wilson's scandalous exploits limited to women and booze?
No. "Good time Charlie" (a nickname he earned during his tenure on Capitol Hill) was wilder and even more out of control than in the movie. In addition to his alleged drug use in the Las Vegas hot tub, Wilson was involved in a drunken hit-and-run accident just before his first visit to Pakistan. The incident happened on Washington DC's Key Bridge. Fortunately, no one was hurt and Wilson's admirers point out that it's a good thing he wasn't caught that night, since a DUI arrest would have hindered his ability to help the Afghans (LufkinDailyNews). A witness who
saw Wilson hit the Mazda with his Lincoln Continental took down his license plate, and he was later almost busted for hit-and-run driving (WashingtonPost.com).
Charlie Wilson's admirers further defend him in the History Channel documentary, The True Story of Charlie Wilson, by saying that he drank that night to ease the pain he felt for the plight of the Afghan people. In a July 2007 article, Nancy DeWolf Smith of the Wall Street Journal responded to this defense of Wilson's reckless stunt by stating, "many millions of Afghans, and thousands of foreigners who
lived and worked among them (I was among them for several years), saw far worse things, more often, than Mr. Wilson ever did. Incapacitating depression was a luxury few of them could afford or gave in to" (LufkinDailyNews). After seeing that such exploits had been omitted from the movie, the real Charlie Wilson remarked, "I got off easy" (SuburbanChicagoNews.com).
Did Charlie Wilson actually do cocaine in the Las Vegas hot tub?
Justice Department attorney Rudy Giuliani never had enough evidence to prove that Congressman Charlie Wilson actually did cocaine in the Caesars Palace hot tub. The Charlie Wilson real story reveals that Charlie had traveled to Las Vegas in the summer of 1980 with girlfriend and April 1981 Playboy cover girl Liz Wickersham. Charlie recalls with seemingly great pleasure his experience in the hot tub with two naked Vegas showgirls,
"The girls had cocaine, and the music was loud. It was total happiness. And both of them had ten long, red fingernails with an endless supply of beautiful white powder....The feds spent a million bucks trying to figure out whether, when those fingernails passed under my nose, did I inhale or exhale, and I ain't telling" (Charlie Wilson's War by George Crile). Liz Wickersham (pictured above) told investigators that she saw Charlie use cocaine only once, in the Cayman Islands, which was out of the jurisdiction of the US Department of Justice. The case was eventually dropped against
Charlie due to a lack of evidence. After appearing on the cover of Playboy, Liz Wickersham landed a 17-year stint in front of the camera on CNN's Showbiz Today. In 1982, CNN chose Liz to interview Cuban dictator Fidel Castro at his presidential palace.
Did Charlie really notice the Dan Rather segment when he was in the Vegas hot tub?
Yes. According to the History Channel documentary, Charlie was in the Las Vegas hot tub at Caesars Palace in 1980 when he noticed the Dan Rather segment from Afghanistan. Charlie heard one of the Afghans tell the interviewer that if you just give us guns we can win.
Did Congressman Charlie Wilson really staff his office with beautiful young women?
Yes. The girls became known as "Charlie's Angels" on Capitol Hill. When asked about his choice of women employees, Charlie would often respond, "You can teach'em to type, but you can't teach'em to grow [breasts]." The real story behind Charlie Wilson reveals that Charlie's administrative assistant, portrayed by Amy Adams in the movie, was usually a man in real life.
Did Charlie's childhood neighbor really kill Charlie's dog Teddy?
Yes. This part of the movie is true. The Charlie Wilson biography reveals that when Charlie was thirteen and living in Trinity, Texas, his dog Teddy got into the neighbor's yard. The neighbor, city official Charles Hazard, retaliated by mixing crushed glass into the dog's food. Teddy died from internal bleeding.
To make Mr. Hazard pay for this grossly inhumane act, Charlie decided to run for office against him in the next election. Charlie won by driving 96 voters from poor neighborhoods to the polls (he had his driver's permit because he was a farmer's son). Before they left the car, Charlie told them what Mr. Hazard had done to his dog Teddy. Charlie landed the victory by a margin of only sixteen votes. -History Channel, The True Story of Charlie Wilson
How did a liberal Democrat like Charlie Wilson ever get elected in conservative Texas?
A couple factors may have significantly contributed to Democrat Charlie Wilson winning his seat in Congress in 1973. The most important being that in the election Charlie ran against the wife of the previous congressman, who'd been sent to prison for bribery. Charlie was also a stark anti-communist, which appealed to the Texas conservatives.
For this reason, he is often referred to as a conservative Democrat, despite holding liberal points of view on social policies such as abortion. In a 1988 interview, Congressman Charlie Wilson explained his Texas political victories by saying, "You have to bring home the bacon, convince'em you don't want to take no sh*t off them Russkies, and you can't think of anything more obscene than gun control." -WashingtonPost.com
Was Charlie Wilson ever married?
Yes. Charlie Wilson's biography reveals that he was married when he entered Congress in 1973, but his marriage didn't last long. An overactive libido, heightened by the fact that he became part owner of a flashy K Street dance club called Elan, didn't help to make him the ideal suitor for a family-minded woman. After his marriage to his first wife Jerry ended in divorce, Wilson indulged himself in his Congressional playboy lifestyle. "He was quite the ladies' man," recalls Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.). "He had this amazing apartment, a real bachelor pad with a hot tub and mirrors, and he loved to throw parties."
After leaving office in 1996, Charlie Wilson gave up his bachelor lifestyle to marry Barbara Alberstadt in 1999. Alberstadt is a former ballerina who Charlie first met at a party in Washington in 1980. -WashingtonPost.com
Did Charlie really take a belly dancer to Cairo?
Yes. Charlie took Texas belly dancer Carol Shannon with him to Cairo (Ventura County Star). Charlie knew Shannon because her husband was a Texas state legislator (History Channel, The True Story of Charlie Wilson).
As in the movie, she danced for the Egyptian defense minister while Charlie and an Israeli arms dealer tried to convince the Egyptian to sell them weapons for the Afghan rebels (WashingtonPost.com). Shannon said of the effect that her dance had on the Egyptian defense minister, "He was foaming through the eyes baby." Portraying Carol Shannon in the movie is actress Tracy Phillips, the daughter of Dallas Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips and the granddaughter of legendary football coach O.A. 'Bum' Phillips. The real Carol Shannon is shown on the left in the early 1980s.
Does the real Charlie Wilson have any regrets?
No. Charlie has no remorse over his devotion to the Afghan rebels, many of whom in the years that followed became Islamic warriors and formed the Taliban. "We were fighting the evil empire. It would have been like not supplying the Soviets against Hitler in World War II," he says. "Anyway, who the hell had ever heard of the Taliban then?" -TIME
Was Joanne Herring happy with Julia Roberts' portrayal of her in the film?
No. "I didn't like the cursing, the drinking, the blatant sex," says the 78-year-old thrice-married Houston socialite, philanthropist and former talk show host. "They turned me into a kooky, hypocritical tart." -NY Daily News
Did the real Joanne Herring wear slinky dresses to meet men in power?
Yes. In an interview, Joanne admitted that she wore sexy dresses, "That's the only way anyone would listen to me," she laughs. "I'm a Christian, but even Christ liked to have a good time." -NY Daily News
I heard that Charlie Wilson and Joanne Herring were engaged at one point. Is that true?
Yes. Charlie and Joanne were lovers. They were engaged around the same time that Charlie Wilson took Carol Shannon, his own belly dancer, to Egypt, Israel and Pakistan. He used Shannon's dancing skills to help seal an arms deal, which is depicted in the movie Charlie Wilson's War. Needless to say, Charlie's engagement to Joanne didn't last. "We were in love with getting rid of the Russians," Joanne said. "We found we were a good team working together. It was a lovely time of my life." -Ventura County Star
Was it really Charlie Wilson's War and no one else's?
No. Perhaps the most misleading part of the movie is that it gives almost all of the credit to former Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson. In the movie, he primarily carries out his operation without the government's knowledge. The film implies that President Reagan didn't know anything about Afghanistan at all. A Congressman in the movie says that he heard the President ask, "Are we even still over there?" In reality, it was Ronald Reagan, not Charlie Wilson,
who gave the order to provide the Mujahideen with the Stinger missiles that denied the Soviets air supremacy in Afghanistan and turned the momentum of battle after 1986 (Yahoo News). Unjustly, President Reagan is seen as a hindrance in Charlie's way, with one character praising what Charlie has got done as a Democrat despite "a Republican president" (WorldNetDaily).
How much money did Charlie end up securing for Afghanistan?
In 1980, as a member of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, Charlie was able to immediately get the budget doubled for Afghanistan from $5 million to $10 million. By the end of the war, Charlie had helped to secure more than $1 billion for the Afghan Mujahideen, with Saudi Arabia agreeing to match every American dollar. -History Channel, The True Story of Charlie Wilson
Charlie Wilson Video
Watch a short video on the Charlie Wilson true story, which features the real Charlie Wilson and Joanne Herring (Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts). Joanne talks about showing Charlie footage from the documentary that she was involved in, "Courage Is Our Weapon".
The footage helped to convince Charlie to visit Pakistan and take up the cause of helping the people of Afghanistan. Watch "The Real Charlie" Video
Joanne Herring's Official Website (with Photos)
Charlie Wilson on Biography.com
"Sticking to His Guns" - Charlie Wilson Washington Post Article
Socialite Joanne Herring wins 'War' to Change Movie's Script - NY Daily News
Charlie Wilson's War Official Movie Website from Universal Pictures
Online Movie Forums Members Discuss & Review Charlie Wilson's War
the Charlie Wilson's War Movie Trailer: