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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Review

"What happened last night?  Kabul happened"
It is not clear if Whisky Tango Foxtrot is a comedy or a wartime drama. It is based on the actual accounts of news correspondent Kim Barker‘s book, “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Should we be laughing or taking it seriously?

Kim Baker’s (Tina Fey) life has become purposeless and lacking any inspiration. She works for a major news outlet, but has been relegated to writing puff pieces in the newsroom, her relationship with her boyfriend has moved into the realm of the mediocre and she spends her evenings riding a stationary bicycle at the gym. Everything seems to be stagnating for Kim until she is offered the opportunity to be a war correspondent in Afghanistan. It is outside of her comfort zone, but she sees it as an opportunity to get out of the drudgery of life. After arriving in Kabul, she begins to wonder about the wisdom in her decision. This war-torn country is so culturally divergent from her life in New York City that she has to decide whether to leave before she even gets started or to move forward on this portion of her journey and give this new life a try. Throughout her first encounters on the field, she begins to get a taste of the challenges and rewards of being a foreign correspondent in a war zone. After some time in Afghanistan, Kim begins to grow into her role and sees how she can influence the military, the news teams and even the people of this Muslim nation, but she must decide if the drive for professional success is leading her to the best decisions with her life. 

whiskey-tango-foxtrot-ftf-00247rWhiskey Tango Foxtrot sits comfortably in the ‘dramedy’ category, even though the marketing would lead audiences to believe that it was merely a dark comedy. This is a warning for all who attend to not expect belly laughs, but instead short bursts of laughter in between intense wartime moments and the promiscuous lifestyle of the foreign correspondent in Afghanistan. Author Kim Barker (Her surname was changed for the sake of the script) provides a fine balance of comedic situations in amongst the horrors of war. It is understandable why Tina Fey and her production team jumped at the opportunity to take Kim’s story to cinemas. The message of directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Focus) battlefield adventure seems to be that in amongst the horrors of war, humor can be the salve to minimise the pain of the overall experience.

In determining this balance of reality and comedy, this production has drawn in exceptional talent in front of the camera. Tina Fey leads the way in this pool of talent. Billy Bob Thornton, Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman deliver strong performances as the support characters, but do not steal the scenes from Fey. The only actor that gets close to taking the film out of the hands to this seasoned comedian is the relative unknown, Christopher Abbott (A Most Violent Year) who plays her interpreter and protector, Fahim. His subtle and quiet presence proves to be the primary conscience of the whole film.
Even with all of the talent, the key difficulty in watching Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is determining what is the most repulsive within the biographical sketch: the images of combat, the treatment of the Afghan people by the remnants of the Taliban or by the deplorable lifestyle choices of the foreign correspondents. The tension becomes whether this use of realistic artistic license is needed for the sake of showing all of the harsh components of this time in history. Ultimately, it is hard to get past the extreme adult nature of the film which does bring down the overall appeal of the film.

It had the potential to be an exceptional film, but it is hard to get past the confronting reality check of war and the human condition.

  • Great cast
  • Balance of reality and humour
  • Too much reality
  • Lifestyles of foreign correspondents

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Russell is an American ex-pat who has been transplanted in his new home of Sydney. He is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and the blog Russelling Reviews. He moderates events called Reel Dialogue (reeldialogue.com) which connects the film industry with the general public.

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