Today is the official state funeral for George HW Bush, our 41st President, and many headlines trumpet how he oversaw the end of the Cold War. That idea strikes me as misguided: he benefited from circumstance, and Communism started falling well before Bush took office. If you wanted to credit a single American for the end of Communism, Charlie Wilson is a stronger candidate.
Directed by Mike Nichols and written by Aaron Sorkin, Charlie Wilson’s War is about a good ol’boy Congressman who uses legal and diplomatic loopholes to supply Afghanistan with anti-aircraft missiles. This helped the Taliban defeat the Soviets, which in turn helped curb communism’s global influence. This all happened while Bush was Vice President, a position that traditionally consists of waiting for the President to die. Despite the title, Charlie Wilson’s War is not a war film: it’s a comedy, and a great one at that. Tom Hanks is terrific is Wilson, while Philip Seymour Hoffman steals the show as a vulgar Greco-American spy (now that Serious Intellectuals are lamenting the loss of WASP global influence, this film is worth revisiting for the scene where a first generation immigrant chews out a racist WASP asshole for his xenophobia).
But I digress. Is Charlie Wilson’s War a great DC movie? It certainly is, although it is not interested in accuracy like Shattered Glass or Breach. It returns to a potent Sorkin idea: behind every “great man,” there are thankless men and women who lift him. It shows a Washington where smart bureaucrats wait around, while clueless leaders fail to spring into action. There are also some notable DC sequences, like when one character plays chess in Dupont Circle, and another takes in a gorgeous view of the city from his Rosslyn condo.
Today is a day to remember a dead President. It is also an opportunity to remember that no President accomplished anything alone.