Mike Nichols’ Charlie Wilson’s War is based on the book of the same name by George Crile (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003). Crile is best known for his work on television’s 60 Minutes and his knowledge of history. Crile’s book is a compilation of fourteen years of research on the Soviet War in Afghanistan and the international involvement of the United States, Israel, Egypt, and Pakistan. Crile’s book is a densely detailed account of Charlie Wilson’s involvement in the CIA’s covert goal to help the Afghans defeat the Soviet Union. Crile’s book is well-researched and pays close attention to the true history of these events. Crile received rave reviews for both the humor and truth with which he tells the story of Charlie Wilson and his cohorts.
The screenplay for Charlie Wilson’s War was written by Aaron Sorkin and follows Crile’s book nearly to the letter. Several lines in the screenplay are directly taken from the book and put into the film verbatim. The film does, however, omit some detail. Because the film is short, only ninety-seven minutes, Sorkin took liberties to minimize the roles of some of the characters. Carol Shannon (the belly-dancer) and Harold Holt (the Islamabad station chief) are two such characters who played larger roles in the true history of the Afghanistan War than the movie leads audience members to believe. Despite some omissions, the screenplay does its best to stick by Crile’s book. The film also portrays Charlie Wilson as a true-to-life figure. Nothing about Wilson is left out, including his periods of alcohol and drug abuse and his tendency to womanize. Like the book, the film depicts both the shortcomings of Wilson and his many merits. The political nature of the war in Afghanistan and its aftermath are mentioned in the end. However, political angles and agenda are avoided, and the film does not delve into examining the blowback of the United States’ involvement in the covert war.