One of the countless great characters played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and the most significant in the world of foreign policy was his portrayal of CIA agent Gust Avrakotos in “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
There’s no doubt that the 2007 feature was a whitewashed account of actual events that led up to the fall of the Soviet Union. The narrative merely scratches the surface, following the exploits of the major players far from the battlefield, jockeying politically for funds to arm the Taliban militants fighting the Soviets.
The reality was a much darker, much grittier affair than was written in that script — certainly a few more proverbial eggs were broken than the narrative shows.
Yet, that’s what made Hoffman’s portrayal of the CIA operative so unforgettable: the grit of the character, the reality of the situation oozing in between the lines. The part is also oddly prophetic with regard to America’s current foreign policy stance in the Middle East and the public’s Snowden-induced aversion to spies.
There’s something huggably icky about Hoffman’s Avrakodos.
He is at once a despicable, dirt clod of a man who any sane citizen would quietly thank god is on the side of good, or at least, our side. Although, despite his obscene language and unkempt nature, there’s an element of Avrakotos that shows through as genuinely empathetic toward the plight of a faraway people — setting aside his lust for “killing Russians.”
Truly a razor’s edge to dance as an actor, and one, we all know, that Hoffman often danced with real-life addiction.
So, let’s go through the scenes, starting with Hoffman’s explosive introduction of the character deep inside CIA offices in Langley.
In this scene Avrakotos is confronting his boss about not getting a post he earned.
Avrakotos gets into a obscenity-laced screaming match with his boss. He rattles off a series of covert accomplishments that include influencing elections and arming militants to fight communism.
Then, as if out of nowhere, Avrakotos reveals his knowledge of his boss’s affair with a colleague’s fiance, down to the room number of the hotel.
This scene paints the CIA as a sometimes low-brow, superficial organisation, peppered with individuals willing to get their hands dirty to further America’s ideologies and their own ends.
The truth, when it comes to the spy game, is a messy one, and one brilliantly summed up in by Hoffman in a three-minute scene:
The next scene details the introduction between Congressional lush Texas Rep. Charlie Wilson and Avrakotos.
In the film, Wilson is simultaneously mitigating an investigation into a cocaine fuelled party he had with strippers and a movie producer, while also trying to get the CIA to pay attention to the crisis of Soviet intrusion into Afghanistan.
He calls Avrakotos in to talk with him when he is interrupted to field queries from his secretaries with regard to the investigation. He asks Avrakotos to leave.
When he calls Avrakotos back into the office, the agent offers him some advice fighting the indictment.
“Were you listening at the door?!” Wilson yells. “That’s a thick door!”
Avrakotos nonchalantly reveals that he bugged the bottle of booze he had literally just handed to Wilson.
“I bugged the scotch bottle,” he tells Wilson.
“Are you kidding me?”
“No, it’s got a transmitter, I got a little thing in my ear, get past it,” says Avrakotos.
Finally, at the end of the movie, everyone is celebrating Wilson’s victory as Soviets pull out of Afghanistan.
Avrakotos calls Wilson out to have a private talk about Afghanistan. In short, the war’s not over, it’s just beginning.
“I’m going to hand you a classified NIE right now and it’s going to tell you the crazies are rolling into Kandahar right now like it’s a bathtub drain,” Avrakotos says.
Avrakotos says Wilson needs to get money into the region to begin reconstruction, “give them jobs, give them hope.”
Of course, given hindsight, we know that didn’t happen.
What resulted from Wilson’s war wasn’t just the Soviet exodus from Afghanistan, it was the Taliban’s reign of fire in the early 90s.
It is also largely why foreign policy planners are incredibly wary now about who they arm and train to further American interests — specifically in Syria, generally in areas around Africa.
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