Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Review

Posted: August 26, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Whiskey_Tango_Foxtrot_posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a film which didn’t make much of a splash with critics or audiences when it was released in theaters back in March, but it’s a surprisingly solid film that’s worthy of your time. The film tells the true story of Kim Barker (Tina Fey), a low-level TV journalist who took a correspondence job in Afghanistan in 2004. Isolated and not fully prepared for her situation, Kim quickly strikes up friendships with her Afghan partner Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott) and BBC correspondent Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie). After some time though, Kim begins to adjust to her situation and even excel at her work, slowly earning the respect of Marine General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thorton) while also slowly developing a relationship with Scottish photographer Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman).

That plot description isn’t exactly the most exciting, and to some extent the story here is the weakest aspect of the film. Kim’s character arc is fairly predictable from the outset; she starts off in something of a rut but finds new purpose when placed in an extreme setting. We’ve seen that character arc before and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot doesn’t do too much to shake things up. Around the second half, the film does start to suggest that Kim might become dependent on putting herself in dangerous situations, but this material is basically just a lighter version of the main character arc in The Hurt Locker. In spite of these shortcomings, I do think the story here works pretty well, mostly due to the low-key honesty with which it is presented. The screenplay, based on the real Barker’s memoir, avoids overdramatizing Kim’s story and accepts it as the humble little tale it is. As such, it is rewarding to see Kim better herself just a little bit. Also crucial to this arc working so well is Tina Fey, who does a very good job creating a likable presence you want to see succeed and she also handles the subtleties of the arc well.

Fey is also backed by a surprisingly strong supporting cast. Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman are both highly charming while Billy Bob Thornton and Alfred Molina also give memorable turns. However perhaps the best supporting performance comes from the far less famous Christopher Abbott, who plays Kim’s Afghan partner. Abbott’s work is very understated and he brings some heart to the film. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has a pretty good sense of humour too. While this isn’t the full-on farcical comedy the trailers made it out to be, the script has pretty good wit and a handful of funny jokes. Most of the comedy comes simply from the characters and their personalities, but there are also some slightly absurd aspects to gleam humour from. Could the film function as just a full-on comedy? Not really, it’s never truly hilarious, but the moments do work and the lighter tone suits the low-key story well.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, a pair of filmmakers who made their directorial debut with an interesting Jim Carrey comedy I Love You, Phillip Morris but have since focused on middling projects like Crazy Stupid Love and Focus. They seem to me very much like studio filmmakers; competent yet unexceptional, which is more or less how I’d describe their work on Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. The film is shot and edited in a perfectly professional manner, but there’s nothing particularly compelling or exciting about either. The visuals are somewhat bland and while the editing serviceably tells the story, it doesn’t create much energy.

All told, I enjoyed Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and think it deserved better, but I do get why it has been more or less overlooked. The film is just a little too middlebrow to really stand out. Its character arc and filmmaking are standard and it doesn’t say much insightful about conflict in the Middle East. Additionally while the film has some funny moments, it doesn’t bring enough laughs to be a full-on comedy. Ultimately though, the movie does work more than it doesn’t. The main character arc is well handled, Tina Fey (along with everyone else really) gives a very strong performance, and the humour does help things flow nicely. This isn’t a film that’s gonna change the world, but as a lazy afternoon viewing, I’d recommend Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

B-

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