The drawings are largely black and white, like comic strips, with enough detail to capture the characters’ emotions but not enough to jar you when they leap into expressionism—the flutter of flowers from Satrapi’s grandmother’s bosom, the silhouettes of mobs, the spirits of the tortured dead, the carnage of the war with Iraq. Persepolis is all of a piece. In between events, Satrapi segues into a history of her country, the rise of the Shah thanks to Westerners with eyes on the oil wells, the coming of his coarser, more stupid son. Satrapi’s parents ship her off to a French school in Vienna, but she’s rudderless, ungrounded. She’s drawn back to a devastated Tehran, where she can’t design a life, either. This great film, by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, is that life, designed. It freed her mind; it frees ours.
Charlie Wilson’s War tells a momentous story—a story every American should know—in a boisterous, lickety-split style that makes the history lesson go down easily. It’s about the congressman who, in the eighties, helped the Afghans (the mujaheddin) devastate the Soviet occupiers, which helped precipitate the fall of the Soviet empire, which—and this is the subtext, the sick joke at the heart of the book, by the late CBS correspondent George Crile—gave the future Taliban leaders and their Al Qaeda cohorts weapons, CIA training, and an exaggerated sense of their potency versus the last remaining superpower. It was one of our country’s greatest covert military triumphs, but, in the words of the man who spearheaded it, “we fucked up the endgame.” God, our leaders can be clueless.
Mike Nichols directed the movie from a script by Aaron Sorkin. It has hustle and colorful talk and snappy acting and peek-a-boo insights into How Things Work in the free-for-all corridors of power. There’s no time to worry about all the storytelling shortcuts. (The movie clocks in at an hour and a half.) The scenes of Afghans blowing Soviet helicopters out of the sky feel cheap, cartoony, but they have an afterbite. After you’ve finished cheering, you remember the same fearless holy warriors are shooting at our guys now.
As the boozy, girl-crazy, charismatic Wilson, Tom Hanks lacks the big, booming presence of a certain breed of southern politician, but he’s still a charismatic star with jazzy timing. Julia Roberts isn’t as much fun as she should be as the rich Texas Republican who converts Wilson to the anti-Communist cause (and beds him along the way); she’s tight, a little rusty. Philip Seymour Hoffman carries the movie. As the CIA operative who hates Communists and his myopic superiors in equal measure, he has a wily, don’t-give-a-shit drive that makes you wish he’d been in Baghdad in 2003.