- Category: Volume 87 (Fall 2015 - Spring 2016)
- Published: 23 March 2016
- Written by AMANDA GLATZ | MANAGING/ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
Tina Fey’s wartime journalist Kim Baker isn’t the only one having an identity crisis in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot; the film itself isn’t quite sure whether it’s a drama or a comedy, and ultimately fails to find its footing as something in between.
Based on “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the film wastes no time in tossing its protagonist directly into the main plot. Presented with an opportunity to broadcast live from the frontlines of Afghanistan, Kim packs her bags and boards a plane just 10 minutes into the movie. The pacing effectively jumpstarts the story, but the generic character trope leaves something to be desired. It makes it awfully hard for the audience to actually know Kim as something other than a fish out of water, and the decision effectively hinders the film from ever diving too deep.
When Kim arrives, she’s greeted by security detail Nic (Stephen Peacocke), angry army general Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton), and fellow journalist from a competing station, Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie). Tanya takes Kim under her wing and they form a fast friendship with a promising dynamic, but Tanya is never quite as funny as the trailer makes her out to be. She mostly just says outrageous things and gives Kim relationship advice, which she routinely ignores. After Kim catches her boyfriend from back home cheating on her via Skype, Tanya suggests that she pursue some of the guys around the camp—as long as she stays away from Iain (Martin Freeman), a combat photographer and notorious player.
The plot unfolds pretty predictably, as Iain flirts with Kim until he finally gets his way, and in the end the jerk turns out to be the guy with the heart of gold. There was nothing fresh about this plot except for maybe the unorthodox setting, and even that just makes it more disappointing—with the potential to write a complex relationship that was actually tested by the circumstances of being on the frontline, why bother telling the same old story? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot would have been better served to dig a little deeper here instead of obliging a rom-com stereotype.
Casting Martin to play Iain provided some nuance to the role, but he and Fey still felt oddly mismatched, and I wasn’t convinced by their chemistry. The whole thing felt rather surface level, and in the end was neither funny nor romantic.
There were a few dynamics within Whiskey Tango Foxtrot that felt real and earned, and I wish they had been given top billing over the Kim/Iain storyline. When Kim first arrives to Afghanistan, she’s paired up with Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott), an Afghan “fixer” and designated middle man between the media and the people. He is quiet and patient, but when Kim takes unnecessary risks just to get footage, he provides some much-needed tough love. Abbott was excellent throughout the more dramatic scenes as Fahim and Kim form an unexpected friendship. Their final farewell was touching and bittersweet, and their story thread might have made for a better central focus.
Kim also bonds with army Specialist Coughlin (Evan Jonigkeit), a young soldier who she interviews on her first day. When she learns that he’s been injured in the line of duty, Kim must confront the realities of Afghanistan and the idea that she and her media team could be to blame. This character development, and the lessons of forgiveness and letting go wrapped up in it, was well done and felt far more significant than any of the romantic subplots.
Parts of the film were funny, or at least as funny as a movie about Afghanistan can be. Fey shined in the fish out of water bits, her sarcastic demeanor really carrying the material. It felt almost as if she was trying to recapture something from 30 Rock, playing a relatively normal character who is thrown into an outrageous circumstance, but it never quite clicks.
A lack of balance and depth is ultimately what kills Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, but it’s certainly not dead on arrival. The film is unique in its design, a commentary on truths discovered in a place at war, and features many bright spots of both comedy and drama. Unfortunately the film commits to neither, and doesn’t mandate much more than a spontaneous watch when it’s eventually released on DVD.
MAGE TAKEN from hitflix.com