Whiskey Tango Foxtrot drops you right into an opening scene that within 1 minute, lets you know exactly what this movie is going to be. Crazy fun amidst a sobering subject matter of war that you may have forgotten. Make no mistake, this movie brings some good laughs, but the pleasant surprise is how much heart lies at the center. You can only make a light hearted war journalism movie if you do it exactly like this.
Sporting a solid core cast headlined by Tina Fey, WTF, brings a stellar chemistry between characters. and brings a balance to the often comedic happenings in a hostile environment. Fey portrays war journalist Kim Baker (based on real life journalist Kim Barker), a bored of her life desk jockey that’s sent to cover the war in Afghanistan. You get to see behind the wire look at the semi-normal lives led in the war torn region through the eyes of the journalists that cover it. As you would expect from a Tina Fey driven film, the goal was laughter, only that was NOT the only goal, and unlike some of her more recent work, the comedy actually lands quite well. You’ll get a good chuckle through most of the movie, and get some big bursts of hilarity in smaller doses. (Moderation and timing are key to get such a pleasant experience)
Things get real a few times strategically. There’s an element of recklessness and danger. When the gears shift and you’re lost in the story you feel it. Anyone male or female can relate to Kim Baker. There’s a sense of adventure, of fulfillment over acquiescence; of plowing forward over checking to see if the way is clear. We all want to do that sometimes and Kim does it in the most extreme way possible. The set design and location prep for shooting was right on the mark and looked authentic. The elements of technology not so far gone of the early 2000’s were displayed to bring more authenticity to the story down to the cameras you see, SD cameras like the XL1 which I used to have that are now outdated just really got me to sink right into the story. Because of the sense of emersion you get, the underlying story becomes all too real. The progression of news coverage and public interest in the Middle East war efforts a few years after 9/11 when we all just stopped caring and paying attention is captured beautifully. If you remember the start of it all in 2001 to the tuned out attitude of the country around 2006, you’ll really get an extra bit of nostalgia out of this.
The performances in WTF are top notch. Starting first with Tina Fey. She revealed in an inteview that she was drawn to the role when a friend told her Kim Barker’s book was like reading Liz Lemon in a war zone, and thats hitting the nail right on the head. If you loved her in 30 Rock, you will really like this film, and if you’re like me and never watched a single episode of that show, you just might start after seeing WTF. Group that together with a small but effective role from Billy Bob Thornton as a Marine General (cliche southern bred hard-ass but played to perfection), the eye candy that offers more than just sex appeal with Margot Robbie playing her fellow war correspondent, bringing a ton of presence and feeling but most surprisingly, she worked her comedic chops well. Being a pretty face was just a bonus. Martin Freeman gives his best all around character delivery to date as a free wheeling smart-ass photographer. My only disappointment was with Alfred Molina, but not because he wasn’t good…he was ok, but with a myriad of choices out there to play a Middle Eastern power hungry politician, there are are so many great ethnically appropriate casting choices that would have made the scenes with that character mean more, but also come off funnier in the gag bits.
Heart: If you can find the heart in a film, you have a gem that can be polished and hold up against the heat. That came from an unexpected place via the performance of Christopher Abbot playing the role of Fahim, Kim Baker’s guide, translator, and a kind of etiquette advisor to local cultures and rules that she should adhere to to stay out of trouble. From my explanation, you already know that rules are going to be broken. He brings such a subtle yet strong hand as her shadow, her compass and what starts as a jagged relationship, becomes a strong bond that you really see form in front of your eyes on screen. The moments between Fahim and Kim are the most important, and most touching of the entire run time. They give you the feels in all emotional ranges throughout the film.
Bottom line, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. You’ll laugh, you’ll probably get some moisture in your eyes a time or two, and there’s not a moment that falls flat. It captures your attention the whole way through with great pacing and engaging events in the storyline. The best films, regardless of genre, are one’s where you have a good time watching them but also take something away from them, learn something, or spark a thought you never had before. This isn’t one for the ages, but it is indeed a good movie with those qualities. Solo, couples date, or group outing its a good watch for everyone.