Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is the film based on Kim Barker’s book “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan” and it stars Tina Fey as the lead character, Kim Baker. The name has been changed but there is not doubt who Tina is actually playing. Left behind in the states after the Middle East erupts into war in 2003, Kim is feeling like her chance has come and gone. She gets another chance to go where the action is and this time, jumps on it. She arrives in Afghanistan and starts her second career as a war correspondent. She meets the usual cadre of reporters all of whom, drink too much, do copious amounts of drugs and have all kinds of sex with other reporters, cameramen and security officials. Kim, however, seems to withstand the temptation of all the sex, drugs and rock and roll. She has a serious boyfriend at home so she is there to get the stories and that is all.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was directed by Glenn Ficara and John Requa based on the script by Robert Carlock and they stayed pretty faithful to the material and this film works for the most part. I enjoyed Tina Fey’s attempt at a more serious role and she does quite well. Yes, there are a number of humorous bits that seem like a Tina Fey standup routine, but they did not bother me. It felt genuine enough that her character had a good sense of humor. But there is also a softer side to Fey’s Kim. She deals with the idea that she is in her forties and that there are far younger and better looking correspondents in the field, most notably Tanya Venderpool (Margot Robbie). Kim decides she will do her reporting the old fashion way; to go into the field, make contacts and see where that takes her. She has great success starting out but after a couple of years, her ability to get anything fresh to the news dries up.
The film does a good job of showing just how far off the grid Afghanistan really is, not just as a country but the people, as well. Women are treated horribly and ANY personal displays of affection are violently shunned, as well. Internet service is horrible and the whole country “literally has feces blowing through the air” as Kim’s Afghan guide, Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott) tells her the second she lands in Kabul. This is not a place anyone would want to go to unless something there makes your career. The film does not sugar coat any of the images that the West has of that region and this helps to drive home the opinion that Afghanistan is a brutal land capable of devouring everyone, even Afghans.
The acting is exceedingly well done from Fey, who never compromises herself as an actress and as the character. Margot Robbie, looking as stunning as ever and actually speaks in her native British accent, for once, is quite charming as well, although her character was a bit underused. As was Billy Bob Thorton as Marine General Hollanek. He does what the job requires but is not really given much to do. Christopher Abbott as Fahim is terrific. Fahim is definitely the exception to the rule. He is a peaceful Muslim; soft spoken, kind and patient. Alfred Molina is a hoot and almost unrecognizable as a local Afghan politician who has taken quite a liking to Kim, calling her his “special friend”. He is underneath a horrible haircut and bushy beard and it took me a few minutes to figure that one out. The bulk of the film deals with Kim and her budding romance with Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman). When they first meet, Kim has a serious boyfriend back in the states but when he is caught cheating (in humorous fashion) she starts to take a liking to Iain. He is a war photographer and has been around the block more than once. They have a nice relationship and I believed it was real.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot will not be remembered for being a film of great scope the way other films like Under Fire and The Killing Fields, for example, will be. It is a decidedly smaller film that does not seek loftier notions of a fallen regime and the role of the press adding to the fall. It is a film about a woman trying to find her way in a country still stuck in the dark ages. Trying to find her way, not only logistically, but emotionally. Is this what she even wants out of life? She starts out as an adrenaline junkie, so to speak, going to the hottest combat zones, but quickly realizes she is not cut out for that. As the film progresses she learns she is pretty much on her own. Fey is strong and with her character, she is able to convey her insecurities and doubt about who she is and who she wants to be, as a woman and a reporter. It is a nice balancing act and Fey does it well. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not flashy or groundbreaking but for what it sets out to do, finding yourself, your place in this world and where you fit in, it does well. This is a smaller film about bigger issues and on that level Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is worth watching.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – *** 1/2
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – Rated R for harsh language, war violence and gore, brief nudity
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – Run Time is 111 minutes
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is now available on DVD and On Demand.