TL;DR – This is a film I should not like because it has many of the problems that usually frustrate me, but somehow it charmed me, and in the end I have to say I really liked Whisky Tango Foxtrot.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a really interesting film for a number of reasons, it has Tina Fey in her first real attempt to move into more dramatic roles, it is dealing with the aftermath of the War in Afghanistan post-Iraq when everyone forgot about it, it is analysing the culture that gets created in such a weird situation of extremes, and also because it engages in so many of the things that I dislike in films yet I still really like it for some reason.
WTF is the story of Kim Barker (Tina Fey) who is given the opportunity to be an on-ground reporter in Kabul after everyone moves their talent to the growing conflict in Iraq. Kim is not happy with her life and its direction, so this gives her the opportunity to reinvent herself, but at what expense. As she lands in Kabul she is surrounded by a world that she does not understand as she is shepherded into the safety of her media car by her Afghan helper Fahim (Christopher Adams) and Kiwi security guard and beefcake for the film Nic (Steve Peacocke). Even when she gets to the media compound she is mortified to find most of them drunk, high or watching adult entertainment, and that there is only one other woman in the entire compound Tanya (Margot Robbie). For someone who has lived a quiet life in New York, trying to negotiate the Afghani ‘government’ and American military hierarchy, whilst trying to justify her existence in a war no one cares about, is really interesting to watch.
But this is not to say this is a perfect film, in fact, there are a lot of problems, and indeed a lot of things that I usually find really frustrating. For one it is clear that to get access to military hardware and bases to film in, they have had to show a very positive view of the US military, it is literally the only organisation that looks good in the film. The plot is bloated at times, characters appear and disappear without warning, and the pacing of the film is all over the place. Also at times the film is quite lazy with a really sloppy use of in medias res, also the use of happy music which is juxtaposed to the carnage on film, which of course is something we have never seen before at all.
All of these things would usually be deal breakers or at least would limit my enjoyment of a film, but here they didn’t. Honestly, I think in a wired way it was nostalgia that really helped me here. This film charts the time when I was learning about the world and engaging in international relations for the first time, so it makes me think of times past, indeed the music helps bring you back to that time. Also, the movie feels real, it encapsulates the issues with military engagement a lot of periods of boredom punctuated by intense action, the problems trying to understand and engage with a population that is so different from you and which you don’t speak the language, and you never know where the next IED will be. Also, everything that happens feels like it happens naturally, and not just because the plot needed it to. Each character get some really great moments from the smarmy Iain (Martin Freeman) whose accent is not as bad as Civil War, Coughlin (Evan Jonigkeit) who gives you hope for the future, General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton) who shows the exasperation of trying to maintain order in a world that budgets are getting cut and no one knows who is a friend or foe, and Tanya that shows the future if you keep needing the rush of danger.
So do I recommend Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, yes, yes I do, but I do recommend it with these caveats, the things I found compelling might not work with you, and this is a really raw film, so don’t come in thinking it will just be a simple comedy.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Screenplay by – Robert Carlock
Based on – ‘The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan’ by Kim Barker
Starring – Tina Fey, Martin Freeman, Margot Robbie, Christopher Abbott, Alfred Molina, Nicholas Braun, Steve Peacocke, Evan Jonigkeit & Billy Bob Thornton
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: not available; Ireland: 15A; NZ: not available; UK: 15, USA: R