WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT (USA/15A/112mins)
Directed by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa. Starring Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina.
THE PLOT: In 2001, journalist Kim Barker (Tina Fey) finds herself in Afghanistan, covering the war from a considerably quieter place than the war-torn Iraq. As such, friendships and allegiances grow up in the international community stationed in Kabul. As the Taliban grow stronger and interest in the country receds however, Kim finds herself fighting for her job, and the new relationship that has developed between her and Scottish photographer Iain (Martin Freeman).
THE PLOT: ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ – of course an allusion to the abbreviation WTF – is based on the real life memoirs of Kim Barker who was stationed in Afghanistan for several years. Although there is plenty of absurdity to laugh at, in trying to make the story a comedy, ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ feels uneven and rather like it is trying too hard.
Tina Fey leads the cast here as Kim Barker, a journalist who at first feels like a fish out of water, before becoming too used to the new world she finds herself in. Fey is charming as usual, and carries the film ably. Margot Robbie plays competing journalist Tanya, and this may be the first time the actress has played a character who does not rely on her beauty to get what she wants, but is cunning and smart. Martin Freeman takes a step away from playing the affable everyman to play a rather more caustic character, and the rest of the cast features Billy Bob Thornton, Alfred Molina and Josh Charles.
Robert Carlock’s screenplay plays with the absurd conditions that these journalists found themselves in in Kabul, while making sure to show off the fact that their arrogance in the field often caused more harm than good. There is definite emphasis put on the fact that these reporters get too comfortable in the “Kabubble” and forget that people’s lives are in danger just outside the walls of their home, but the trouble is that while there are a few laughs at the start of the film, the comedy quickly stops coming, leaving the film feeling uneven and slightly awkward.
Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, whose previous films include ‘Focus’ and ‘I Love You Phillip Morris’ struggle with the pacing of the film, as the middle section feels flat and the beginning too rushed. The performances are strong enough to make the film work, but the lack of a strong vision in terms of tone – is this a comedy or not – means that the film ends up feeling less clever than it thinks it is, and rather more messy.
In all, ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ is a comedy that’s not really that funny. There is a story to be told about the journalists who embedded in Afghanistan then forgot where home was, but Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not it. Still there are some laughs at the start, Martin Freeman obviously has fun and Tina Fey is infinitely watchable, so ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ isn’t all bad, just a little uneven and badly paced.
RATING: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.0Uneven
  • filmbuff2011

    With a title alluding to internet acronym WTF, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a war comedy featuring Tina Fey that plays it both funny and serious – not an easy balance to pull off, but it does so in spades with very successful results.

    Based on a true story, it recounts the wartime correspondence of journalist Kim Barker (Fey) from 2003 – 2006. Dispatched by her New York TV network due to her not having children, she arrives in war-torn Afghanistan which is still a Taliban stronghold. There she bonds with a tight-knit international group of embedded journalists and war reporters in Kabul (or the ‘Kabubble’). She immediately bonds with feisty Australian Tanya (Margot Robbie), who advises her that her looks and status are bumped up in Afghanistan. She’ll need to know that. The local Afghan leader (Alfred Molina) who she is sent to interview is making moves on her with his not inconsiderable charms. So also is blunt Scotsman Iain (Martin Freeman), who likes to throw out offensive phrases intended as terms of endearment (sometimes). She also has to negotiate with Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton), the commander of the Marines she’s embedded with. He likes to stare into space when the time comes… But at the heart of it all, she wants to know what’s really going in Afghanistan and goes undercover (literally) to find out…

    Based on the book Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days In Afghanistan and Pakistan by Barker and adapted by Robert Carlock, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a very sharp, astute comedy about the absurdity of war, without making any of the characters seem absurd. We certainly laugh with them, but not at them. Take Kim’s first experience of putting on an all-covering blue burka to infiltrate a heated market debate between some Afghan men: it looks so pretty, so why would she want to vote? Or the nature of her relationship with the two men trying to woo her, while she has a not entirely faithful partner back home. She’s a smart lady and isn’t going to fall for anything false or unrealistic.

    The female perspective of the film is refreshing for a change. That’s due to co-directors Glenn Ficara and John Requa, who previously directed Robbie in Focus and also made Crazy, Stupid, Love. War is invariably regarded as the province of men (to quote Eomer), but Barker’s perspective is very engaging and funny. Ficara and Requa get the tone just right – an equal mix of hearty humour, strong characterisation and some well-placed, more serious moments. Even in the darkest of conflicts, these journalists and soldiers maintain their sense of humour. The acting is really good across the board – there are no weak links here and Fey, without her sparring comedic partner Amy Poehler, shows that she can be a good dramatic actor too. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot joins that select group of war comedies like M*A*S*H*, Buffalo Soldiers and Jarhead that walk a tonal tightrope with ease. Roger that. ****

  • Adam

    Bursting with vivid characters, infectious humor, adorable romance, and bittersweet truth-as well as one of the best depictions of depression/mental illness I’ve ever watched. Lovely, lovely movie. It’s Kremerman but deeper and brighter, and painterly with words like Zaretskiy, but sharper and more true.