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Many times when a documentary or biopic is released the producers like to use phrases like “Stranger than Fiction” or “No one could make this up.” The idea, of course, is that the story is so unbelievable that no one has enough imagination to conceive of the person, events, or both. Now maybe it’s just the writer in me, but when I hear that I have an almost instinctive urge to reject those claims because, in truth, I do think that these stories can be imagined, but that they are so far-fetched that no one would believe them. Truth is only more outrageous than fiction because we can’t deny it. Disbelief simply doesn’t stand up to facts. Well, most of the time, anyway.
The story of Charlie Wilson definitely falls into this “Stranger than fiction” category. The idea of an East Texas playboy Senator nicknamed “Good Time Charlie” playing a key role in the toppling of the Soviet Empire sounds like a mediocre comedy starring Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd, but that’s exactly what happened. Talk to any member of Afghanistan’s Mujahideen about who won the war, and that person will say “Charlie did it.”
In 1980, Charlie Wilson was sitting with a group of strippers in a hot tub in a Las Vegas casino hotel room. He was drinking whiskey – which, other than women and destroying Communism, was his abiding passion – and happened to glance at the television. It just so happened that the TV was tuned to a news report Dan Rather was giving on the Afghan freedom fighters who were fighting against a Russian insurgency into their country. At this point in history, the Soviet Union was considered the greatest military in the world, and the Afghans fought them with weapons left over from the First World War. Wilson was so moved by the spirit and patriotism of the Mujahedeen that he set out to help them in whatever way he could. What followed was the beginning of one of the most successful CIA campaigns in history.
This is a fascinating documentary over a very important person whose accomplishments have been seemingly overlooked by history. Naturally this documentary was made because of the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, starring Tom Hanks as the East Texas Senator. In fact, Aaron Sorkin, the movie’s screenwriter, was interviewed for this production. But beyond this flavor-of-the-month quality, this is an entertaining and important documentary. The only problem I have with it is that it told the story so well I’ve lost my desire to watch the movie.
There were no extra features to this DVD.
This is a great look into a fascinating man and his impact on an important time in the history of the twentieth century. Beyond that, this is just fun to watch. Charlie Wilson could have stepped out of a novel, and much like the state he represents, he walks, talks, and lives larger than life. Recommended.
The History Channel presents The True Story of Charlie Wilson. Running time: 94 minutes. Unrated. Released on DVD: April 8, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.