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The True Story of Charlie Wilson

Aside from one glaring blemish -- the wholly unnecessary practice of using dramatic re-creations to replicate the protagonist's salacious recreations, like cavorting with strippers in a hot tub -- this spec tied to the movie "Charlie Wilson's War" is a credible account of a remarkable story.

With:
Narrator: Bill Lloyd.

Aside from one glaring blemish — the wholly unnecessary practice of using dramatic re-creations to replicate the protagonist’s salacious recreations, like cavorting with strippers in a hot tub — this spec tied to the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” is a credible account of a remarkable story. Perhaps foremost, it feels like an appropriate DVD extra for the movie, including extensive interviews with Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the film, as well as Wilson himself.

The actual history here is so absorbing, it’s amazing that nobody thought to document it before George Crile’s book; indeed, the facts require little embellishment. Wilson, a party-boy congressman from Texas, saw Dan Rather reporting with the mujahideen in Afghanistan (thus earning the anchor the nickname “Gunga Dan”) and subsequently committed himself to combating the Soviet invasion there, aided by a beautiful Houston socialite with whom he was romantically entwined.

Toward that end, Wilson manipulated fellow congressmen to increase the budget for the Afghans, conspiring with a CIA agent to put modern weapons into their hands. Those tools — including stinger missiles capable of bringing down helicopters — turned the tide of the war, sent the Soviets slinking back home with major casualties and, eventually, contributed to the communist government’s downfall.

Wilson comes across as a colorful good ol’ boy who, as the narration notes, “stumbled into historic accomplishment.” Indeed, it’s hard to believe a politician such as this could have existed and even thrived well into the 1990s, given that he made absolutely no pretense of hiding his outsized appetites.

Unfortunately, the spec gives relatively short shrift to the aftermath of those events — how chasing the Soviets “left a vacuum” in Afghanistan, as Wilson acknowledges, which was filled by the religious zealotry of the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

Americans have never been especially attentive to history, and it’s welcome for the History Channel to lend some context to these events — even if it is transparently drafting on Universal’s publicity budget for the bigscreen version.

That said, the little dramatic flourishes provided via reenactments (such as a teenage Charlie shown stroking his dying dog) feel like an insult to the intelligence, as if we’re not trusted to fill the blanks without heart-tugging visuals.

This is one real-life drama that needs no such fabrication and should simply be told the way skirt-chasing Charlie likes his booze — straight, with no chaser.

Popular on Variety

The True Story of Charlie Wilson

History Channel, Sat. Dec. 22, 8 p.m.

Production: Produced by Wild Eyes Prods. Executive producers, Carl H. Lindahl, David Keane; producers, Ryan Spyker, Aaron Cowden; director, Keane; writers, Bowden, Terrence Henry.

Crew: Editor, Justin Inda; music, Michael Plowman. Running time: 120 MIN.

Cast: Narrator: Bill Lloyd.

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