WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT
By Gary Bourbon Charleston Rumba Murray
Starring Tina Fey, Alfred Molina and Martin Freeman
Written by Robert Carlock
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Running time 111 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Matinee
When one sees the ads for the new Tina Fey film Whiskey Tango Foxtrot they would assume that the film is yet another motion picture like the others such as Baby Mama and Sisters. The commercials make it out to be another raunchy and suggestive laugh fest full of crazy and fanciful situations. Those expecting such a cinematic diversion will be quite surprised by Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
The story starts in the latter days of the first decade of this century. There is a wild party going on with drugs and drinking. While it looks like a traditional frat bacchanal, in the background there is an explosion. Everyone scrambles to get out the door.
Soon we find that they are reporters covering the war in Afghanistan. Kim Baker (Tina Fey) is one of those imbedded correspondents in the danger. Soon, we see that she is a hardened journalist who can spew out swear words in a multitude of languages. Then the film goes back to the beginning.
It is 2002 and Kim is a writer on a major network. She knows the news but has never been on assignment. When the war breaks out, the higher-ups gather together all the single people who can be sent into harms way. At 40-something and not married, she is the senior person who can be spared. Kim is sent to the Middle East war zone.
Once there, she is exposed to a very different life. Almost instantly an admired female reporter Tanya (Margot Robbie) asks Kim is she can sleep with Kim’s security detail. Kim finds out that in Afghanistan she’s considered a perfect 10. Men are desperate for non-Muslim women. She also meets General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton) who teaches the green reporter some of the more serious ideas of being a combat reporter and being a Marine.
Tanya also warns Kim about photojournalist Iain (Martin Freeman) who is just as foul mouthed as he is charming. Kim has never met a guy as seasoned and as salty as Iain and is repulsed by his every utterance. But, he is also very savvy about both the local customs and local people. Iain is a good person to be on good graces with while in the three months she is to be stationed. It turns in to over three years.
Eventually, Kim befriends Ali Massoud Saadiq (Alfred Molina) the local Muslim who is working his way up in the government. Kim and Ali have a very uneven truce where Kim is trying to get information and Ali is trying to bed down a Western woman. The more powerful Ali becomes, the more dangerous he is to her safety.
The film also deals with Kim’s romantic life and her struggle to stay faithful to her long-distance boyfriend. As the war and the reporting drag on, the relationship suffers. Basically after a while, the war becomes commonplace and NYC becomes a foreign land.
The film is directed by two directors, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. It feels as if it is directed by two different individuals and not by a team. The film has sequences of dark humor and even darker violence. As Kim tries to make sense of her world, we try and make sense to just what kind of a film is being presented. While all of the funny and clean moments are in the commercials; there are a multitude of parts that are very adult. In the end, it definitely earns its R rating.
The directors also show an Afghanistan that is both beautiful and ugly. The cinematography is breathtaking. There are swooping vistas of desert land that people are able to survive on and at the same time the cities are broken and revolting, showing a side of life that is unforgiving in both tone and testament. It is a great palate for a mediocre film.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is produced by Lorne Michaels, the head of Saturday Night Live for almost all of its seasons. He has made a stream of comedies mostly based on SNL characters or performers on that show. It would make sense that he would be in charge of this film. But this big screen adventure is a much different animal from all those silly comedies. There are more than a couple of deadly moments and some that verge on being in a horror flick.
But Tina Fey could not be more beautiful in this film. There is a certain degree of charm in her every smile. Time and time again, someone in Afghanistan mentions that she is so pretty and that she looks like a young boy. This is a very homo-erotic moment. After a while, the audience begins to see her in such a term that is off-putting at least. The director of photography made sure that every single frame of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot showcases Tina Fey’s small face in perfect light.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not the greatest film of 2016 nor is it the worst. It feels like a very true telling of how journalists have to both report during war and live in a war zone. The end product feels real. Parts are stunning and parts are horrific but end the end, is does not leave a strong impression.