Not a comedy. Don’t trust the trailer. It was actually hard to believe that anyone could filter the war in Afghanistan through a comedic lens. And it’s true; they can’t. But what’s more important: they shouldn’t. Even the smirking goddess of good timing, Tina Fay, toned down the deadpan in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot because pointing a camera at the war in Afghanistan is neither the setting nor the medium for lighthearted laughs. As the film will tell you, it’s actually the place for guns at weddings, protest lynching, and where old ladies are violent enforcers of the head-scarf rule.
Reporter Kim Baker (Tina Fay) is pathetically comfortable with her desk-job life. It’s painfully obvious to us, but it takes a re-shuffling of network priorities to make Kim fully aware that she’s in desperate need of a change. So she flies to Afghanistan. Moving from writing pieces on mayonnaise to being a war reporter takes some getting used to – at first. Kim learns that, deep down she’s the kind of person who would rather film a gun fight from the perspective of the soldier than hang back in the car. She befriends state officials, nags American generals, interviews warlords, and dives head first into a culture that has very strict rules and even stricter punishment. It doesn’t take long before Kim is addicted to the kind of rush that only comes from getting shot at, yelled at, or threatened.
No one deserves to get out into the field more than Kim, but it’s easy to say she sometimes takes it too far. Kim is escorted around Afghanistan by the likeable local, Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott). We think of him as the resourceful sidekick who protects Kim from herself as well as from the unwanted attention of others. He is Kim’s conscience – that is, until she pushes the danger too far even for Fahim.
Kim may recognize that her life is hazardous, but she can’t help wanting to chase the delicate stories. It seems to help that her boarding house full of international journalists is like living with a cheer squad of competitive enablers. Who wants to meet the warlord and his goons at a military-monitored crossroad in the middle of the desert? Road trip!
While I can understand Kim’s addiction to the rush a good story brings, what I couldn’t understand was the mix of accents in the room. Australian, American, Scottish, New Zealand, Arabic, French – the accents show the diversity of the reporters covering the war zone, but their unfiltered strength (without that Hollywood clarity) made catching the dialogue an honest challenge. To be frank, this may have affected how much I liked Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (how do you review dialogue that sounds like “mmhum to larkenige bar tuinnal”?).
Although Tina Fay does an impressive job balancing the acting line between terrified and exhilarated, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a persistent plot that only moves in one direction. Kim is always hunting a better, more daring story, and turns from the meek desk servant into the posterchild for ballsy initiative. But she’s only ever moving forward. Even the events that should slow Kim down or make her re-think her life choices have little impact on her drive. She’s always trudging on with no end in sight.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot takes the war in Afghanistan out of the shadows. Although it doesn’t dive heavily into the battlefield, the disagreements, and the politics that have prolonged it, the film definitely flags all these issues. It certainly put the high beams on my ignorance. I should have watched Whiskey Tango Foxtrot with a notebook in hand, jotting down what to Wikipedia when it was over. From an entertainment standpoint (it is a Hollywood movie after all) there are a couple of exciting bumps but not nearly enough to swerve the plot out of its routine tailspin. On the whole, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a WTF 4.5/10.