Aaron Sorkin Defanged in Charlie Wilson’s War

by | December 13, 2007 at 1:56 PM | General

Aaron Sorkin

Despite its good showing in the Golden Globe nominations, apparently Charlie Wilson’s War is a much tamer version of what it was originally intended to be by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, a man who has so much to say about current global politics that he couldn’t keep it out of his dramedy about a comedy/variety show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Seriously, it ended with a 4 or 5 episode run about a cast member’s brother being held prisoner by terrorists, which likely helped get it cancelled.

Hollywood Elsewhere‘s Jeffrey Wells has a report on an earlier draft of the script that more directy correlated Wilson’s efforts in Afghanistan with the current disaster with Al-Qaeda, According to the New York Daily News, the script seems to have been watered down thanks to legal pressure from one of the people it portrays, specifically right-wing socialite millionaire Joanne Herring, played by Julia Roberts in the film.

Yesterday’s Rush & Molloy column (12.12) in the N.Y. Daily News quotes Herring as saying she “practically choked” when she read Sorkin’s original screenplay,” which “ended with a shot of the Pentagon in flames, implying that Herring and Wilson (played by Tom Hanks) had abetted Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda crew.

“Can you ever predict a war?” Herring says to Rush-Molloy. “The shelf life of a Stinger missile is five years. There’s no weapon we got them that can be used today.” [HE note: This is a witless smokescreen rebuttal as neither the movie not Sorkin's screenplay states or implies that weaponry purchased for the Afghan Muhjadeen in the '80s was used against the U.S. later on.]

Herring showed the script to Wilson and “we wept and wailed and gnashed our teeth,” Herring says. “Then they brought in some legal muscle — Dick DeGuerin, the celebrated hot-shot Houston attorney who got an accused Houston murderer off and also defended U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay on conspiracy and money laundering charges. “DeGuerin got the attention of Universal and the producers,” the story says, [and] Herring, was thereafter “assured that the script would be changed.”

The column says that Herring flew to last Monday’s L.A. premiere “with Houston pals, who included former Secretary of State James Baker…[and] to everyone’s great relief, she and Wilson liked what they saw on the screen.”

That’s because all the movie says now, boiled down, is that despite the effective efforts of Wilson and Herring in arming the Muhjadeen and thereby helping to defeat the Russian invaders, the U.S. “fucked up the end game” in Afghanistan because no one nurtured political or cultural ties with key regional players and combatants in the war’s aftermath.

Sorkin’s script is much tougher and more explicit in explaining the particular U.S. errors and oversights from the time of the Russian withdrawal to 9.11.01. As much as I like the final version of the film myself, I wish Universal and director Mike Nichols had sidestepped Herring and DeGuerin and been more faitthful to Sorkin’s original work, which is to say more faithful to the reality of what really happened over there.

We can only hope, then, that Sorkin wins the Golden Globe and gets to tell us all what he really meant to say. Then we’ll see if he gets booed or cheered. His response to getting the nomination, as reported in Variety, would seem to indicate he’s not too bitter about it.

“It’s a great surprise. I was in bed and I got called at 5:40 by my publicist. There’s no one I’d rather speak to that early. The film opens a week from tomorrow so it’s really nice having something like this before the movie opens. It just gives it a little extra push. I loved working with these actors and working with Mike Nichols was like getting paid to go to grad school. He’s the greatest and I just loved every minute of it. I’ll wait and hear and see if others are going to the actual ceremony but it would certainly be a shame if they didn’t. Charlie just had transplant surgery but he was at the premiere the other night and he looked great. He’s been very supportive of the movie.”