culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Tom Hanks + Mujahideen = Yet Another Oscar. All-American actor Tom Hanks is preparing to play East Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson in a film adaptation of Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History (
Houston Chronicle):
Can Tom Hanks, who has handled a Southern drawl effectively in several films, master the distinctive East Texas twang? We're going to find out when he portrays flamboyant Rep. Charlie Wilson of Lufkin in a film based on the book Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History.

Author George Crile, a 60 Minutes producer, reports that Hanks' production company has just teamed with Universal Studios to buy movie rights to the book. Hanks has committed to the lead role. He will play the East Texas congressman who led efforts to provide money and weapons to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s in their battle against the Soviet Union.
This screamingly made-for-the-silver-screen story is not without its dark side, although the book reportedly soft pedals it, according to Molly Ivins:
One thing I especially like about Crile's treatment of all this splendid material is his almost tender portrait of Wilson himself, warts and all. Charlie is awfully easy to caricature or dismiss, though I think he is not quite as exceptional as Crile does. Brilliantly talented alcoholics are rather common in Texas public life, including Bob Bullock, Ann Richards, Oscar Mauzy, Warren Burnett, etc. I believe I am safe in claiming that at one time almost half the Texas Senate consisted of drunks. But Wilson was never the cartoon figure he liked to play. For one thing, most of those gorgeous women who worked for him over the years, known as Charlie's Angels, of course, were smart as hell.


One cannot, in this account, help siding with Charlie and his sidekick, Gust Avrakotos, "the blue-collar James Bond," against all the stuffed shirts, wusses and pompous [CIA] bureaucrats who worried about silly stuff like breaking the law and setting off World War III. Far be it from me to side with the grown-ups -- makes me happy just to think about the hot fantods Charlie and Gust must have produced amongst the mopes at the State Department.

On the other hand, dismissing "blowback" from CIA operations should not be done out-of-hand. It seems to me that even the CIA's "successes," like returning the Shah to Iran and the 1954 Guatemalan coup, produced hideous results. There was good reason to be anti-anti-communist during the Cold War. In this case, we are left with the unfortunate fact that Wilson's War armed a bunch of people who are now shooting at us. While Crile does not neglect that delicate topic entirely, his treatment of it is slight and defensive.
Wouldn't it be great if Tom Hanks chose not to portray a colorful, happy-go-lucky, aw-shucks Texas-via-Hollywood Charlie Wilson and decided not to gumpgloss over the immense difficulties (ahem, 9/11) that the real Charlie Wilson helped to bring upon us? Couldn't he color the role with some darkness, some "grown-up" quality that in fact matches the reality of the situation as it has developed over the last twenty years? Wouldn't it be more interesting not to spoon-feed another Forrest Gump oversimplification of history to a media-anesthetized public?

Tom Hanks already has his archetypal home-spun roles and Academy Awards — hopefully he realizes that he need not contribute to the national stupor.

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