CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
The issue: A boozy congressman (Tom Hanks) with his hands on the CIA’s purse strings allows a big-haired Houston socialite (Julia Roberts) to talk him into funding a billion-dollar covert war in Afghanistan. Inspired by a true story.
The message: Everything has consequences. Wilson’s coup may have turned the tide in the Cold War and led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the same operation also empowered Al Qaeda extremists.
The resolution: After achieving its military objective, the U.S. failed to fund Afghan schools. “These things happened,” says Charlie Wilson, “and then we fucked up the endgame.”
THE KITE RUNNER
The issue: A childhood betrayal haunts a privileged young Afghani refugee (Khalid Abdallah), who seeks redemption by rescuing his friend’s orphaned son from the clutches of an old rival back home.
The message: The Taliban are Hollywood’s new Nazis. The barbaric, child-raping tyrants have turned a beautiful country into a terror-stricken hell on earth. But it’s never too late to change.
The resolution: The boy is whisked away to freedom in the West, but there are many others in desperate need of being saved. Afghanistan remains a dangerous place for women and children.
The issue: A squad of U.S. soldiers rape and murder an Iraqi girl. The military goes through the motions of covering up the incident, but a trail of amateur footage tells a different story. Inspired by a true story.
The message: War is ugly, and Americans can’t trust the propaganda being fed to them. But now that everyone has cameras, interested parties can examine things from all sides and draw their own conclusions.
The resolution: The Iraqis exact their own revenge, kidnapping and executing one of the squad members. The surviving U.S. troops bring their guilt home with them — and the footage won’t let them forget.
New Line Cinema
The issue: A foreign-born U.S. citizen (Omar Metwally) is abducted by U.S. government security without due process and grilled about possible involvement in a terrorist bombing.
The message: Torture isn’t the answer. Under the right kind of pressure, suspects will say whatever their captors want to hear. The real heroes are the ones who question out-of-control U.S. policies.
The resolution: Jake Gyllenhaal plays a wet-behind-the-ears CIA field officer whose conscience gets the better of him, inspiring him to liberate the prisoner. The media have a field day with the story.
LIONS FOR LAMBS
The issue: A cocky senator (Tom Cruise) concocts a military plan to stabilize Afghanistan without thinking through the consequences. A skeptical reporter (Meryl Streep) debates whether to call him on it.
The message: There’s nothing more dangerous than political ambivalence. As an inspirational poli-sci professor, Redford believes the children are the future. Teach them well and they will lead the way.
The resolution: As the title suggests, foolish leaders are putting courageous young people in harm’s way. Cruise’s plan results in the tragic deaths of two promising young college grads.
IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
Warner Independent Pictures
The issue: Soldiers bring the war home with them. When his son goes AWOL shortly after returning from Iraq, a concerned father (Tommy Lee Jones) investigates.
The message: War changes people. It turns teens into killers, husbands into wife abusers and survivors into shell-shocked head cases. Even patriots may turn antiwar when they see its effect on their kids.
The resolution: A “you can’t handle the truth”-style showdown with the base commander yields a shocking confession. Jones, playing a well-adjusted Vietnam vet, concludes that things are FUBAR.
GRACE IS GONE
The issue: The wounds of war are inflicted on the home front, as a father (John Cusack) of two young girls learns that his wife has died in Iraq but decides not to share the information with his daughters.
The message: “On the news, they’re saying that we went to war with the wrong people, that it was all a lie,” the older girl says. Cusack’s response: “Sometimes you just have to trust what you believe.”
The resolution: Tears and group hugs as Cusack’s character finally musters the courage to tell his daughters. Rather than passing judgment on the war, the film honors the family’s grief.
A MIGHTY HEART
The issue: While covering the situation in Pakistan, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is kidnapped by Islamic extremists. The film follows the crisis from the point of view of his wife (Angelina Jolie).
The message: Hatred doesn’t solve anything. Mariane Pearl forgives her husband’s captors in a TV interview, arguing that wherever misery exists in the world, extremists will find support for their cause.
The resolution: Daniel is beheaded by his captors, but the film resists showing it. Instead, it focuses on Mariane’s pain, her willingness to forgive and her resolve to make the world a better place.