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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: Movie Review

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wtf1No matter what your political disposition it’s hard to argue that the United States’ various wars and skirmishes in the Middle East over the last quarter century have been anything but a boon for American cinema. From Best Picture winner Hurt Locker to Blackhawk Down and Zero Dark Thirty, Iraq and Afghanistan are the gifts that keep on giving to Hollywood filmmakers. Critical acclaim and controversy fuel box office and this subject matter delivers both with impressive consistency. How long can the fire last? Michael Bay’s Benghazi thriller 13 Hours makes the case that domestic appetites for desert warfare are waning. While not a disaster by any means, 13 Hours didn’t exactly light up the box office and left some wondering if audiences are finally growing weary of the subject matter. Up next to test that theory is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, the Lorne Michaels produced adaptation of reporter Kim Barkers autobiographical book The Taliban Shuffle, which recounts her time as an embedded journalist in Kabul during the War in Afghanistan.

 

WTF6In Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Tina Fey plays Kim Baker, a forty something news copy writer in New York who decides to drop out of her hum drum life and take a chance by volunteering to embed herself in the War in Afghanistan. As she adjusts to her life in Kabul alongside other world traveling war reporters she finds herself further and further removed from normal life and seduced by the thrill and danger of war reporting. With the help of fearless British correspondent Tanya (Margot Robbie), hard drinking Irishman and would-be paramour Iain (Martin Freeman) and Afghan local translator Fahim (Christopher Abbott), Baker finds herself deeper and deeper within a war that no one seems to care about and desperate to bring attention to the struggle there.

wtf2I’m a big fan of the works of Tina Fey while not being all that excited about Fey herself. She is an exceptional comedy writer as evidenced by works like Mean Girls and 30 Rock, but in her own on-screen contributions she can come across as smug while trying to portray smart and self-deprecating. She suffers much the same here, but as is often the case she is let off the hook by the impressive array of talent around her. Margot Robbie continues to prove she is more than a pretty face with another compelling performance that proves to be a bit more complex than what we originally surmise it to be. Martin Freeman takes on a slightly edgier role than normal and still proves to be one of the most charming people in the room. Abbott is a real surprise here as he manages to generate incredible warmth and concern while rarely raising his voice and with barely more than a nod for much of his performance. Alfred Molina and Billy Bob Thornton also deliver outstanding turns as quirky authority figures for Fey to regularly bounce dialog off of, even if their presence ultimately ends up being little more than clumsy plot devices.

WTF3Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a heck of a movie that’s going to be fighting an uphill battle at the box office for a number of reasons. First and foremost, this movie is being sold heavily as a comedy and it really isn’t one. It makes sense, of course. It’s a Lorne Michaels production and Tina Fey is a much celebrated comedic force.  And while it really is funny, very clever and light hearted, it’s not a true comedy in the vein of other pursuits by Fey & Co. It has more in common with some of those other movies I mentioned in the opening. There is a lot of heart in this movie. It’s a character’s journey to self-discovery and it is an exploration of a very real conflict in a very real place. That is the second problem this movie will run up against. It’s a very straightforward story, but some people are probably going to want to see a politicized take on Afghanistan and they’re just not going to get it. The military is very sympathetically represented and the thrust of the action is about people doing their jobs and the relationships they develop through such. That’s what it shares most with films like Zero Dark Thirty and 13 Hours. There is no finger pointing, just characters and war. I found it refreshing, but I fear a lot of people will see it as a missed opportunity.

Sometimes a good story is all it takes, and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a really good story.

 

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)
Director:  John Rrequa & Glenn Ficarra
Studio:  Paramount
Genre:  Comedy, War
MPAA:  R
Release Date:  March 4th, 2016
Author:  Steve Hanning

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