By the looks of its marketing campaign, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” looks like it was veering more toward comedy. Thankfully, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but neither is it a straight-up comedy. And of course this wouldn’t be the case, given the issues the film manages to cover. Based on the book by war journalist Kim Barker during her time covering Afghanistan, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is a sensitive balancing act between wit and the drama of war without ever branching into anything overly political and staying in the realm of its comfort, which is its journalism aspect.
New York-based cable news producer Kim Baker (Tina Fey) is “unmarried and childless,” which apparently makes her the perfect candidate to be sent overseas to cover the war on assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan circa 2003. Finding her life and career at a relative standstill, with the exception of her boyfriend. The shell-shocked journalist, who’s never left the comfort of the U.S. in this capacity, she befriends fellow journalist Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), translator Fahim (Christopher Abbot), and photographer Iain (Martin Freeman). Between reporting, being in the midst of risky situations, and partying, Kim finds herself learning the ways of war as well as how to become a successful correspondent.
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is thankfully not a typical war-time film. While it’s obviously from the American perspective, it isn’t throwing anything in our faces, only relaying the experiences of this particular journalist. A film that is heavy in the female perspective a movie set during a war is exceptionally rare. There isn’t very much action in the way of the typical war experience we’re used to seeing in films such as these. Journalism takes front and center here as Fey’s character explores the ins and outs of reporting in the country, what she can and can’t do, and finds out how ratings can fuel what stories go to air and how competitive the industry actually is.
The film is borderline vague. It doesn’t strike to offend or heavy-hand-feed the audience about what’s good and bad, but sticks to the experience of simply living in Kabul under a certain visage and point of view. You’ll find no heroism here, which is frankly refreshing. Fey excels in her role. Her character is a cross between “Eat Pray Love” and “Wild,” but isn’t remotely in the realm of simply being a self-help film. Fey pushes through her character’s lack of experience at first. She’s sometimes level-headed and occasionally brash, but always making choices that get her what she ultimately wants. The supporting cast, which also includes Alfred Molina as a government official Billy Bob Thornton as a military general, is good, without getting too much in the way of Fey’s character’s journey. They provide reasons and starting points that add to her as a character, so that we see the changes she undergoes by the end of the film.
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” strikes a different tone than initially perceived. Directors Glen Ficarra and John Requa (“Focus,” “I Love You Phillip Morris”), along with writer Robert Carlock (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “30 Rock”) keep the film from going too dark by sprinkling the film with lighter moments and dialogue. It’s not an action war film, but a semi-contemplative look at the worlds of war and journalism through the perspective of a journalist who’s never been out in the field, and how the two feed into each other. After all, war is still a business to many and certain aspects of the film certainly remind us of this.
Based on the book by war journalist Kim Barker during her time covering Afghanistan, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" is a sensitive balancing act between wit and the drama of war without ever branching into anything overly political and staying in the realm of its comfort, which is its journalism aspect.