by Sam Robinson
Rated MA15+. Starring Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.
I’m a massive fan of Tina Fey’s comedy work, from her take as Liz Lemon 30 Rock (one of my favourite TV shows of all-time), to her executive oversight over The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I missed Sisters, which was mostly panned by critics, but was intrigued to see her playing the lead role of TV journalist Kim Baker in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
Here, Fey’s Kim is thrust into Kabul, Afghanistan, during Operation Enduring Freedom, or as it has more commonly been known, the Global War on Terrorism. As you’d expect, the adjustment period and culture shock is played up in classic Fey style. She interviews US soldiers as wind blows her hair into her face, she needs to pee in bushes while guarded by armed men in camo. She is looked down upon by Marines General Hollanek (played so well by Billy Bob Thornton), embraced by London reporter Tanya Vanderpoel (Robbie), and sleazed upon by pretty much every man in Kabul. Eventually, she settles, driven by ambition, and proves her ability to move through risky situations in order to bring home a good story, and explosive (literally) footage.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a hard film to describe. Is it a comedy? Not completely. Is it a drama? Well, not quite. Directors Ficarra and Requa (Focus) keep the tone light enough for it to not be a “war movie”, although that’s largely what it is. The film is based upon a 2011 memoir by international journalist Kim Barker – The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which looked at the lighter side of being a war correspondent – and WTF replicates the humour. There are some great shots of dusty streets and dry landscapes (surprisingly, it was shot in New Mexico), and the danger of Afghanistan is captured well, with a number of jumpy moments. There’s also a stack of language and crude sexual references.
The issue with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is that it’s quite bumpy as it comes in to land. After making us laugh, and providing some shock value, and exploring such territory as sexism, it doesn’t quite know where to finish, and ends up pushing some morals. The message driven home is not that of whether war is right or wrong, but more of selfish ambition. Is getting a good story worth risking your life, or even the lives of others? And when things go wrong in a war setting – who is to blame? And is forgiveness possible when we harm others? Lots of questions are raised to ponder as you leave the cinema.
The Verdict: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a wild ride through Afghanistan with some solid performances from Fey and Freeman, but is let down by the final act. 3.25/5
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is screening now in cinemas worldwide.