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Movie Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Midlife crises usually don’t result in relocations to war-torn countries in the Middle East. But that’s exactly what happens in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”, the new seriocomedy based on the memoir “The Taliban Shuffle” by newspaper journalist Kim Barker. The movie follows Kim Baker (Tina Fey, “Mean Girls,” “30 Rock”) as she takes on a risky assignment as a war correspondent in Kabul in the early 2000s. As Baker gets drawn into the “Kabubble” and struggles to adjust to her new life, she develops close relationships with her fellow oddball journalists.

Fey provides a brilliant portrayal of the quick-witted, strong-willed protagonist, and delivers emotionally-powerful dialogue and sharp one-liners with equal ease. Baker is also a refreshing take on the typical middle-aged, working woman character, as she never lets the men in her life -- including the womanizing Scottish journalist Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” ) -- take precedence over her career.

Stock characters abound throughout the movie, but the actors bring these personalities to life. Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Neighbors”) stands out as cheeky, self-assured Australian journalist Tanya Vanderpoel, and Billy Bob Thornton (“Entourage,” “Friday Night Lights”) is perfectly cast as the gruff US Marine Corps Colonel Hollanek. Christopher Abbott (“James White,” “Criminal Activities”) takes on the role of Baker’s “fixer” -- journalism lingo for translators and guides for foreign correspondents. His portrayal of Fahim Ahmadzai is subtle and sensitive, particularly as his character and Baker progress from having a strictly professional relationship to a close friendship.

Yet despite strong performances and clever dialogue, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” fails to find its footing. At some points, the movie suggests that it might delve into an exploration of the politics at work in mid-2000s Afghanistan. When Baker interviews Marines on base, one of the men describes the war in Afghanistan as the “forgotten war. Capital ‘F’, capital ‘W’.” Later, a group of Marines have to explain to an elderly Afghan villager that they’re not Soviet soldiers, but rather there to protect the area. However, these small moments of seriousness are quickly lost in the midst of Baker’s tangled career and relationship problems.

The real life Kim Barker stated in a New York Times article that she wrote her memoir with a comedic tone “because [she] witnessed so much tragedy, and the only way to bear it was with a dose of dark humor.” But the humor in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is neither handled delicately nor tinged with a dark enough tone to achieve the same effect as “The Taliban Shuffle”. Rather than taking a fresh approach to a typical storyline and raising thought-provoking questions, the movie instead falls into cliched and often melodramatic plots.

If you’re looking for light-hearted, mindless entertainment this weekend, give “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” a try. Otherwise, it’s a miss.

Grade: B-

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (R, 112 minutes) is now playing at AMC Mazza Gallerie.


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