WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT
Journalist Kim Baker (Tina Fey) recounts her colourful experiences as a war reporter in Afghanistan.
Review by Louise Keller:
The kaleidoscope of life as a war correspondent is the subject matter for this entertaining and often amusing film, based on journalist Kim Barker's memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although some of the elements are trivialised by screenwriter Robert Carlock's treatment, the colour palette is rich we get a sense of war close-up, complete with the horror, the ironies, the expected and the unexpected. What works best are the amusing personal insights, effectively depicted by Tina Fey, whose central character is trying to not only make some sense of the war, but of her own life.
Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have delivered a war drama with a comedic slant and a rom-com element - an ambitious combo in any language or nationality. After a brief opening sequence in Afghanistan amid booze, drugs and bombs, a flashback takes us 3 years earlier, when Kim Baker's news writer makes the decision to leave her desk job and 'borderline depressive boyfriend' for a grand adventure in a brand new world. When Margot Robbie's ultra cool news glam queen Tanya tells Kim that while in New York she might be a 6 or a 7, here in Kabul, she's a 9, nearly a 10, something clicks. Tanya must be a 15, Kim observes. The fact that the focus on partying and sex somewhat disturbs the credibility of the reality but like Kim, we get sucked in. War and its consequences have sobering counter punches.
Billy Bob Thornton is fun to watch as the unbending general who does not want his marines to be distracted and Alfred Molina is entertaining as the local attorney general who wants to be Kim's 'special friend', albeit he plays it like a farce. (I love the line: would you like tea or the latest play station?) A local cast in the role might have been more effective, just as it might have worked well for the role of Kim's translator, Fahim (played here by Christopher Abbott). Fahim's role is interesting in that we glimpse what is and what is not acceptable when it comes to the local customs. Martin Freeman works well as Iain MacKelpie, the rascally Scottish photographer who takes a shine to Kim.
The film's tone settles with Afghanistan's dust and we get a real sense of the issues, the problems, the personal challenges and the moral dilemmas, when life and death matters are weighed in the balance. If you doubt the filmmakers' intentions, just think about the acronym of the film's title.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Despite its episodic feel - or perhaps because of it - Whiskey Foxtrot Tango gives a visceral account of Kim Baker's three year stint as a TV reporter in Afghanistan in the mid 2000s. If there was ever any vanity in her book on which the film is based, it has been radically eliminated and Tina Fey delivers a multi-layered characterisation, with a sardonic edge. But the temptation to overdo the shtick is resisted, making the film an edgy affair.
When Kim is reluctantly recruited by her network (unnamed, but unmistakable) to go from writing news scripts for news anchors to shooting with the shooting at the dusty hellhole of Afghanistan, she leaves behind her boyfriend - but it's only for three months, she tells him. Three years later ...
Anyway, the story Kim is trying to tell here is that the experience changes her, quite profoundly. The thrills are as great as the risks, and the conditions require adaptation. Life can never be the same again.
Fey does a fine job of making Kim a real person, neither hero nor victim and through her experiences we get an insight into the specifics of being a war reporter. The romantic appeal is quickly trumped by gritty reality, of which Billy Bob Thornton's General Hollanek is a walking, hard-nosed example.
Martin Freeman as photographer Ian McKelpie turns up the larrikin button in him and fires on all cylinders as an Irish madman, while Margot Robbie lays on the pretty but potty mouthed journalist who is the only other female in the fight. Hats off to Alfred Molina who pulls off the role of Ali Massoud Sadiq, the lecherous Afghan Attorney General with some useful connections.
The screenplay could use some polishing and smoothing, but all in all, the film works. The muddy moral waters are exposed against the na•ve American presence and the filmmaking is technically excellent.
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WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT (MA15+)
CAST: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Christopher Abbott, Billy Bob Thornton, Nicholas Braun, Stephen Peacocke, Sheila Vand, Evan Jonigkeit, Fahim Anwar, Josh Charles, Sherry Jones
PRODUCER: Ian Bryce, Tina Fey, Lorne Michaels
DIRECTOR: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
SCRIPT: Robert Carlock (book by Kim Baker)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Xavier Grobet
EDITOR: Jan Kovac
MUSIC: Nick Urata
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Beth Mickle
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 12, 2016