A novice war reporter in Afghanistan acclimates to her new surroundings.
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Starring Tina Fey, Martin Freeman, and Margot Robbie
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
That disappointment aside, it’s fine if a film isn’t trying to be the end-all, be-all of a particular subject, as long as it’s saying something worthwhile about its narrower focus. If the people of Afghanistan and the soldiers fighting there are going to take a back seat to war reporters, what does Whiskey Tango Foxtrot have to say about war reporting? The opportunity is here for thorny moral dilemmas, but again, Ficarra and Requa pull their punches. Everything here either has an obvious answer or a pat resolution, or both. The incident with the well and the conspiracy of burka-ed women is merely an anecdote, agreed upon by every party in the know and the source of exactly zero conflict. It’s just a cool thing that happened one day. Iain’s (Martin Freeman) rescue goes off without a hitch. The soldier that Baker meets with at the end has an admirably long view and no ill will towards anyone, maybe not even the insurgent who planted the IED that maimed him. If the goal was to demonstrate a Hurt-Locker-style addiction to war, just talking about it isn’t enough. The cast is assembled based on their talent for humor and/or lightness, and the film doesn’t challenge them with anything too dark. For Baker, the years she spent in Afghanistan are practically collegiate, packed with alcohol and drug consumption, hook-ups, and graduating with a new career. Maybe some things are regretted, but everything’s fine.
As we’re sliding down the scale past profundity or well-observed specificity, we land at entertainment, something Whiskey Tango Foxtrot does best. I’ve spent the most time with Fey as Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, and it’s no surprise that she brings the same level of comic timing to Kim Baker, plus the added benefit of cursing. I don’t know if she’s capable of a purely dramatic role and am no closer to determining if she is after Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, but she can lead a semi-satire with no problem. There are enough other colorful characters and strong scenes to make the film a memorable experience. On the rare occasion that the film dips into seriousness, like the kidnapping rescue and the drone attack, Ficarra and Requa impress with a bracing amount of wartime gore and some Sicario-esque cinematography. While I don’t feel it’s perceptive on the whole, there are some subtle tidbits that are chewier than they appear, namely how it’s always the women who scold Baker for not adhering to the strict misogynist standards of Afghan society, an example of the human impulse to act like crabs in a bucket and drag each other down.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot might not have too much to say about much of anything, but it’s fun and well-acted with a pinch of darkness. It’s a War on Terror fairy tale about a white lady improving her life in one of the poorest parts of the world, where the Taliban are fools who measure pubic hair instead of stone people in soccer stadiums, where the largest roles for Afghans are played by two guys with ancestry in Southern Europe. I should probably be more annoyed with this film than I am, but on its own terms, this is a nice diversion about mistaking a bubble for real life. If it’s not quite empathetic or approaching truth, at least it’s entertaining. C+