MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ is a bit too kind-hearted for its own good

whiskey tango foxtrot

Film: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Starring: Tina Fey, Martin Freeman, Margot Robbie

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot carves out a nice little space for itself next to other breezy, matinee, fish-out-of-water tales. Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa let their mean side take a back seat in this earnest little film about the scary-but-funny implications of being a journalist in war-torn Afghanistan. Luckily for the movie, the central dramatic heft rests on the shoulders of Tina Fey, a master of her craft. This is the kind of film that thinks it can cruise through a bunch of exposition before settling on its more sobering themes without doing damage to the rest of the story. Wartime journalism is a drug, or so they say, and it’s never been so broadly palatable.

Kim Baker (Tina Fey) escapes her humdrum life of editing news copy when she volunteers to cover the going-ons in Afghanistan in the years leading up to and after The Iraq War. What was once a struggle to find inspiration to tell the stories in Afghanistan turns into a bit of an addiction to Kim as she pushes herself into harm’s way for a good lede. This is the story of Kim, the influence of Kabul on her life, and the influence she had on the people she met along the way. The film is based on journalist Kim Barker’s book The Taliban Shuffle.

I’m not usually one to comment on marketing materials used for films, primarily because film is subjective and no two-minute edit can really steep you in whatever the finished product is trying to get across, but I digress. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has almost been entirely marketed as a comic romp. That’s not to say that the actual film isn’t funny, but it’s got a lot more working under the surface for the dramatic side of things. If anything, I’d call this a straight drama with brief instances of humor. That aforementioned humor also being part of WTF’s main problem.

There’s this strange thing going on in the film’s story that consists of a bunch of dramatic beats being jettisoned by crude humor before wrapping things up in a nice and neat manner. There’s some hard-hitting stuff here about war-as-drug and overcoming racial barriers to do right by everyone. With anyone else in the main role, methinks things could have fallen apart at the seams. With Fey, though, everything passes by so effortlessly.

I’d be inclined to gauge your excitement for Whiskey Tango Foxtrot on how much you want to see a story about a woman overcoming her own pitfalls in life by witnessing and becoming a part of another culture. Sure, that probably sounds like something at least a little interesting, but Ficarra and Requa only narrowly escape the “white savior” narrative that could have brought the movie to its knees.

Luckily, the supporting cast is stellar and makes everything so much easier to ingest. Billy Bob Thornton gets very close to stealing the show as a hard-nosed Marine colonel who takes a liking to Baker as she finds her footing amidst the madness. Margot Robbie kind of gets thrown away in a role that boils down to being the devil’s advocate and third-act plot device. Martin Freeman is great as Ian MacKelpie, a photojournalist who has eyes for Kim. Their increasing affinity for the endorphins produced by wartime journalism becomes a backbone for the film’s second half.

If you were to see anything this weekend, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot should probably be it. It may not leave an impression with you far after watching it but it’s a good way to spend two hours watching talented people do things.

GRADE: C

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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