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Frank V. Gaide
Writing Credits:
Aaron Bowden

No one suspected that playboy Congressman Charlie Wilson and his partner Gust Avrakotos - an aggressive CIA agent nicknamed Dr. Dirty - would mastermind the covert arming of the Afghan Mujahideen in what became the largest and most successful campaign in CIA history. The True Story Of Charlie Wilson profiles this unorthodox alliance and chronicles the epic journey the two men undertook to guarantee the success of their freedom fighters. Now The History Channel examines the unforeseen and far-reaching effects of the CIAs efforts to assist the Afghan rebels in the fight against the Soviet Union - namely the Afghan uprising against the West. Revealing the full story behind the Hollywood blockbuster Charlie Wilson's War, The True Story Of Charlie Wilson penetrates the inner-workings of the CIA to uncover the men and the designs that have returned to haunt America today.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.78:1
English Dolby Stereo 2.0
Not Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 91 min.
Price: $19.95
Release Date: 4/8/2008

• None


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The True Story Of Charlie Wilson (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 15, 2008)

Just in time to coincide with the DVD release of 2007ís Charlie Wilsonís War, we get a History Channel documentary called The True Story of Charlie Wilson. As you can infer from the title, this program purports to tell us the reality behind the flickís take on Wilson and his exploits.

If you saw the movie, youíll know that back in the 1980s, Texas Congressman Wilson worked behind the scenes to support the Afghan Mujahideen in their battle against the Soviets. Story examines these activities via the usual mix of archival materials and interviews. We hear from Wilson, War screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, former Soviet Commander General Valentin Varennikov, former Soviet Lt. Colonel Alexander Pikunov, CIA agents Frank Anderson, Jack Devine and ďBulldogĒ, CIA Pakistan Station Chief Milt Bearden, Pakistani diplomat Dr. Humayun Khan, anti-Communist activist Joanne Herring, Courage Is Our Weapon producer Robin King, Wilsonís friend Carol Shannon, Pakistani Brigadier Mohammed Yusuf, Pakistani General Hamid Gul, Pakistani Colonel Sultan Amir Imam, and Afghan rebels Sayed Ishaq Gailani, Azizullah Din Muhammad, Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, and Ahmad Wali Massoud.

ďTrueĒ looks at the 1979 Soviet assault on Afghanistan and covert US involvement there. We also learn about Wilsonís life and career and what prompted his support for the Afghan cause. From there it digs into how he took charge of the USís assistance to the Afghans as well as related personal and professional topics.

Usually when I watch a documentary that tells the true story behind a feature film, I expect to take note of all the ways the fictionalized tale changes the facts. In this case, I leave with a pretty positive impression of how much Charlie Wilsonís War does right. As you watch Story, youíll see a lot of material covered in the flick, and it comes as a bit of a surprise to see how few liberties that effort took.

Not that this means War was completely accurate Ė or that Story wonít provide lots of details new to those who solely saw the film. While War probably works better as entertainment, Story unquestionably provides a fuller examination of the various subjects related to Wilsonís efforts. It gives us a decent glimpse of background issues largely ignored in the movie and digs into other topics with greater depth.

Wilsonís personal life and non-Afghan-related career get the most expansion here. For example, in War, a sexy belly dancer appears as a footnote during a diplomatic mission. As indicated here, that belly dancer was Wilsonís girlfriend Carol Shannon, and she accompanied Wilson during a lot of his treks. This doesnít mean that War dropped the ball; Shannonís involvement had little to do with Wilsonís work, as far as I can tell, so there was no reason for the flick to spend time on that topic. Nonetheless, itís interesting to learn more about a character who doesnít even merit a name in the feature film and find out that there was a lot more to her presence than the movie indicates.

I also like the documentaryís info about Wilsonís political ups and downs. In War, we hear virtually nothing about his re-election campaigns, but here we find out how close he came to defeat at one critical juncture in the Afghan war. The movie leaves the impression that Wilson coasted through each election every two years, but the documentary lets us see that the reality became more complicated.

Another fascinating tale relates to Wilsonís alcohol problems. The evening before a vital trip to Europe and Afghanistan to earn the backing of leading Congressman ďDocĒ Long, an inebriated Wilson rear-ended a car and fled the scene. This nearly scotched his departure the next morning, but he managed to skate. I expect War avoided this event because it doesnít cast Wilson in a positive light. The film likes to portray him as a lovable rascal, but a drunk-driving/hit and run scenario may give the viewer a more negative view of the Congressman. I donít really fault the filmmakers for its omission, but it wouldíve made for a dramatic sequence, and itís very interesting to find here.

Most folks who come into Story after a viewing of War wonít find lots of revelatory information. However, the documentary acts as a good expansion on the facts presented in the flick. We get a more accurate depiction of history and learn quite a lot along the way.

The DVD Grades: Picture D/ Audio C+/ Bonus F

The True Story of Charlie Wilson appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has NOT been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. 2008 seems awfully late in the game for a non-anamorphic transfer, and that factor made Story a messy presentation.

Jagged edges became a massive problem. Many shots suffered from a blocky, ropy look during which jaggies dominated. Staid interview images didnít seem too bad, but anything with even a little movement presented very rough edges.

Otherwise sharpness was perfectly adequate. Again, the interview shots worked the best, as those showed pretty good definition. No source flaws popped up during new clips. Archival elements had the expected defects, but I didnít hold those against the transfer.

For the new shots, colors actually looked pretty good. They demonstrated natural, concise tones much of the time. Blacks were also dark and deep while shadows seemed acceptable. If True had received an anamorphic transfer, I think the image wouldíve been very satisfying. Unfortunately, the tremendous prevalence of rough edges negated all of the presentationís positives and leaves it with a ďDĒ.

Donít expect much from the Dolby Stereo 2.0 soundtrack of Story, though it seemed perfectly satisfactory for this kind of project. Actually, the soundfield opened up a bit more than I expected. The shots of war allowed the mix to present more action than usual for a documentary. None of this demonstrated very good localization, but at least the track showed some life. Music offered decent stereo imaging, and the surrounds bolstered the battle sequences.

Audio quality was decent. Speech sounded natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music and effects appeared acceptable, though not particularly dynamic. They showed a bass-heavy tendency without much real range. I thought the track worked well enough for a ďC+Ē.

No extras accompany the DVD. No added scenes, no commentary Ė nuttiní!

Plenty of folks who saw Charlie Wilsonís War will be interested to learn more about the man and his work. The True Story of Charlie Wilson serves as a good close-up on subjects discussed in the movie. While the documentary shows that the feature film actually did a better than average job with accuracy, it nonetheless fleshes out matters in a nice way and acts as a good complement to the flick.

This isnít much of a DVD, though. Picture quality often stinks, audio is average, and it includes no extras. I like the program enough to recommend a rental, but I donít think the disc merits a purchase.

Viewer Film Ratings: 5 Stars Number of Votes: 7
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