I don't write many reviews, but I just finished rewatching this on Amazon Prime and was reminded of what a truly outstanding film this was.
Let's start with the actual events, which I lived through. When Reagan took office in 1981, our Cold War policy--such as it was--came down to "don't try too hard to win it, just stay in the game." We were still in the grip of George Kennan's Era of Containment we entered into shortly after the end of WW2. There were a few cracks in the walls starting to show, but they were entirely undiscovered by our ever-so-clever intelligence services.
In one of his first national security briefings, Reagan told the briefer who was pushing this unimaginative strategy, "How about a new strategy? 'We win, they lose.'" And so it was from that point forward. I played a (very small) role in one (very small) aspect of this policy, an aspect of weapons systems development we referred to as "competitive strategies."
But much of the Reagan Administration's effort was dedicated to capitalizing on opposition to the Soviet Union within its own sphere of influence, and of course pushing back hard when it tried to expand beyond it. Thus we came to support the Afghan Mujaheddin.
But until Congressman Charlie Wilson of Texas decided to take an interest, Afghanistan occupied a decidedly subsidiary role in our hierarchy to places like Poland and Nicaragua. So his efforts count for something. How much? Unknown. As Jack Kennedy famously observed after the Bay of Pigs, success has many fathers, failure is an orphan. In the winning of the Cold War, Congressman Wilson was one of those fathers.
Did we screw up the endgame, as the movie suggests? Could be. Or maybe not. Given our complete failure in bringing liberal democracy to most of the places we've been involved in lately--Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria...the list goes on--I find it hard to believe that a million dollars to rebuild the Afghan schools would have averted 9/11. The Taliban would have seen to that!
So...on to the movie. Does the movie romanticize, simplify and clean up a messy, complicated situation involving flawed human beings? Duh. If it hadn't, it would be the first time a Hollywood movie "based on actual events" had NOT done so. Is the movie faithful in its larger contours to the situation and its participants? Speaking only from my own worm's-eye perspective from within Reagan's Navy Department, I would say so.
Tom Hanks--one of my favorite actors, who is in my opinion one of the greatest if not THE greatest of his generation, does a magnificent job in his portrayal of Congressman Wilson...warts and all. It is in some ways astonishing to see how a deeply flawed, obscure, near-joke of a congressman can rise to the occasion and truly make a difference.
Julia Roberts, at this point perhaps a trifle past the white-hot apogee of her career, does a great job as well, as does Philip Seymour Hoffman, a truly underrated actor whose career was tragically cut short. And then there are the cameos: the late, great Om Puri doing a turn as President Zia Ul-Haq of Pakistan, a pre-Mad Men John Slattery as an arrogant, old-school preppie CIA officer, and many others.
The dialogue is crisp, yet never seems contrived. Every line is delivered with conviction without slowing things down. And even the small details seem to be gotten right.
I agree with some of the critics that the combat sequences seem amateurish, though the cockpit chatter of the Soviet pilots--chilling in its dehumanization--rings very true. In the words of the song, "...He just flies the bomber, he never sees their eyes when the Hell comes down..." But if anything the attacks are too epicene and do not convey the horrors of the war.
Conclusion: if you want two hours of great acting and great dialogue, involving a plot that would be regarded as implausible if it were fiction...you should definitely see this movie. Strongly recommended!