Whiskey Tango Foxtrot review: Tina Fey impresses in this cautionary dreamed about life and reporting in the Kabubble.
The wildly talented Tina Fey (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock anyone?) finally hits cinematic pay dirt with her surprisingly entertaining dramedy Whisky Tango Foxtrot. Based on journalist Kim Barker’s ‘The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan’ – a memoir about her experiences reporting in the region – this oxymoronic and cautionary tale of absurdity and realism in the ‘Kabubble’ is itself… awfully good.
Tina Fey plays Kim Baker, a successful TV network producer whose ennui and candidature (a.k.a. childless and unmarried) for a foreign correspondent position in Afghanistan prompts her to accept the position, say a temporary farewell to her equally successful boyfriend Chris (Josh Charles) and naively head off on assignment to Kabul.
After being welcomed to Afghanistan by a local woman screaming ‘Cover yourself, shameless whore!’, she is met by her fixer and guide Fahim Ahmadzai (superbly played by Christopher Abbott) and personal security guard Nic (Stephen Peacocke) who escort her to her local accommodations dubbed ‘the fun-house’, a dilapidated and debauched den for international journalists.
The ho-hum comedic arc continues as the female centric protagonists come to the fore with the introduction of blunt-speaking, ‘can I shag your hunky security guard’ Aussie/Brit journalist Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie). An entirely fictitious character who aides in driving the careerism, adrenalin addiction and horniness thematics, Tanya is ecstatic to finally have another woman in the house. Observing Baker as a ‘serious piece of ass’, ‘an eight, nine, borderline 10’ (in Afghanistan at least), Robbie takes a humorous poke at her own ‘sex symbol’ notoriety with a deadpanned delivery of her ‘15’ status.
It’s an homage that continues throughout the film despite its serious turn towards and increasingly insatiable need for war-driven adrenalin rushes. On Baker’s first embed with a marine unit led by General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton), she is tersely advised not to sleep with any of his men but earns a little respect when she throws herself into the thick of it in order to capture the shootout between Hallanek’s unit and rebel fighters. Her relationship with Afghan Prime Minister Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina) turns from unsubtle romantic propositions to become his ‘special friend’ to outright blackmailing Sadiq to get what she wants and her relationship with foul-mouthed, Scottish war photographer Iain (Martin Freeman) is tested when they are each facing the consequences of their adrenalin-junkie lifestyle.
On the upside, the film’s tempo often reflects the difference in pace between life in Afghanistan and the more rapid clip we’re accustomed to in Western culture. There are parts of the film that you wish you could fast forward through but when looked at in context, it’s understandable. I particularly enjoyed DoP Xavier Grobet’s mixed shots and editor Jan Kovac’s quick cutting of Iain’s rescue scene – it’s exceptionally on point and a beautiful thing to watch.
On the downside, the story is a bit of a dust storm, blowing loosely on the surface of everything and floating away before it gets too meaningful or deeper.
If you go into this film with no preconceived ideas of what to expect, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome, even if contemplating its merits on Afghani time. Are their flaws? Sure, but what film doesn’t. But the acting is great, it’s sometimes funny, sometimes bawdy and most of the time, it’s got your attention. It’s Fey at her best.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot review by Sacha Hall, May 2016.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot opens in UK cinemas this Friday 13th May.