Based on a true story and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot follows a reporter on a series of misadventures through Afghanistan. However, does the film strike the right tone for a film set in one of the United States’ most contentious wars?Kim Baker (Tina Fey) is working on a copy desk at a news organization – I can’t recall if they actually say it’s CNN or not, but based on the real-life news folks that also show up, it’s CNN – and is finding that her life is going nowhere. When the Iraq War begins in 2003, her network is looking to funnel some reporters to Afghanistan, which is losing the spotlight. Feeling the need to shake up her life, Kim takes the assignment, leaving her confused boyfriend Chris (Josh Charles) to watch her apartment and water her plants. As soon as Kim arrives in Kabul, she’s hit with culture shock. She is introduced to her security man, Nic (Stephen Peacocke) as well as her guide and translator, Fahim (Christopher Abbott). Once she arrives at the compound where a bunch of journalists are staying, she meets Tanya (Margot Robbie), a beautiful correspondent who was on TV when Kim made the decision to take the assignment. The two become fast friends and Tanya introduces Kim to Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), who instantly takes a fancy to Kim. She establishes a respectful working relationship with General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton) and has to fend off the advances of Sadiq (Alfred Molina), a randy Afghan politician. While all this craziness is going on around her, Kim tries to file reports that help keep a focus on Afghanistan, which is quickly becoming a forgotten war.
The film is based on the memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by real-life reporter Kim Barker, and it captures the dark humorous tone of the book’s title expertly. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – or WTF for those who haven’t figured out the connection – is a funny film. And why shouldn’t it be funny? The film was championed by Fey and the screenplay is by her 30 Rock show runner and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt co-creator, Robert Carlock. While it’s true that war is horrific, that doesn’t mean that funny things can’t happen in a war zone. These people had to let off some stress somehow. Also, these were Barker’s experiences, so while it might have been nice to have the commentary on the war be a bit sharper, that’s not what this movie is about. The film is about this one woman and how her experiences as a war correspondent changed her life. Despite the comedic undertones, the film does have some serious moments for sure. It never ignores what the reporters are there to do and why they’re there in the first place. I will say that some of the outcomes to some of the experiences felt a little easy in retrospect, but I was engaged in the film throughout. Nothing really felt out of place for me to be jarring. I did like how the correspondents, much like many of the soldiers fighting in the war, started becoming addicted to the adrenaline rush of being there. Living in a war zone soon became their normal.
The cast is fantastic. Fey leads the way and shows that she can tackle roles that are not simply goofy characters, though the absurdity of some of the situations Kim finds herself in may have thrown the writers of 30 Rock for a loop. Freeman is highly likable as Iain and he keeps his Scottish accent consistent throughout the film. Robbie continues to impress with each new role I see her in and I’m really looking forward to seeing her work in this summer’s Suicide Squad. Molina is equally comical and creepy in his role and I loved Abbott as Fahim, though the whitewashing of these roles is a little troubling. Thornton is also back in his element as the put upon general dealing with the minutiae of military life. The soundtrack is also great, so kudos to the Music Supervisor.
Overall, if dark comedy about a serious subject is not your thing, than Whiskey Tango Foxtrot may not be for you. Personally I adored the film and the characters that it introduced. It’s not a scathing indictment of the Afghan War, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s about a single woman’s experiences during the war and they were often weird. Check it out if you can.