Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
PLOT: In late 2003, a desk-bound journalist (Tina Fey) volunteers to cover the war in Afghanistan for her 24-hour news network. A three month assignment suddenly becomes a new way of life as she finds herself addicted to the danger of her new job.
REVIEW: WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT is the ideal vehicle for Tina Fey. Without a doubt one of the most gifted comediennes in the business, Feys dipped her toe into more dramatic territory several times over the past few years, but this marks her most successful attempt. Skillfully blending her persona (or at least what we think her persona is) with the real life account of journalist Kim Bakers time covering the war in Afghanistan, Feys made a movie that will both give her fans what they want but also demonstrate a surprising versatility.
One thing this is not is 30 Rock in Afghanistan. While Fey doesnt fall into the typical, over-earnest performance some comic actors default to when trying drama, she also eschews the slapstick of her broader work. With Lorne Michaels on-board as a producer, and Feys 30 Rock/ Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt collaborator Robert Carlock writing the screenplay, its clear this has been perfectly tailored to her strengths, which surprisingly includes giving Baker a real edge.
Almost right from the time she lands in Kabul, Baker is shown to be reckless, running out into a fierce gun-battle with her camera to get footage, ignoring the warnings of Billy Bob Thorntons cynical Marine Corps colonel. While initially it seems that the film is celebrating her gutsiness, it takes a realistic, surprising turn when after interrupting a mosque meeting with her camera and inciting a riot, her native guide (the excellent Christopher Abbott) calls her-out for endangering his life and being an adrenaline junkie. More than any film since the underrated HBO telefilm LIVE FROM BAGDHAD, WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT gets into the heads of war correspondents, with Baker and her cynical colleagues blowing off steam by drinking themselves into oblivion every night (while others snort rails of cocaine something Feys character doesnt partake in).
While clearly Feys show, some of the supporting parts are pretty meaty. Margot Robbie, as Feys Kabul-BFF, further demonstrates her range by playing her character as someone whose motivations wind-up taking the story into darker territory than anticipated. Martin Freeman also proves to be a more complex love interest than would be expected, with his cynicism hiding a real edge and self-destructive side. Even Billy Bob Thornton is able to give what seems to be a stereotypical military boss part some three-dimensionality, with him warming to Fey but never to the point that it feels unrealistic (Thornton seems to have patterned his on-screen look on famed technical advisor Dale Dye).
The only one who comes-off as broadly comedic is Alfred Molina, with his jokey, ultra-horny pro-Sharia Law politician seeming like something lifted out of another movie, not helped by the fact that the English Molina is essentially doing brown face. Its closer to Peter Sellers in THE PARTY than it is to reality. By contrast, the American Christopher Abbott is excellent as Feys interpreter Fahim, with him committing to the part just as much as he did in his wrenching turn in JAMES WHITE.
WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT proves to be directing team Glenn Ficarra and John Requas best film since I LOVE YOU PHILIP MORRIS. While its inarguably a mainstream comedy (with drama), to their credit the movie is a full-R, with lots of F-bombs and one really gruesome scene towards the end that really drives home the life or death situation a lot of these correspondents find themselves in the middle of. In the end, WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT is a really entertaining comedy/drama and some of Tina Feys best work. While its not quite GOOD MORNING VIETNAM, the laughs are skillfully blended in with a real-world, tragic situation and Fey and her collaborators have more than done this story justice.