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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot


Starring Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Christopher Abbott, Billy Bob Thornton, Nicholas Braun, Stephen Peacocke, Sheila Vand, Evan Jonigkeit, Fahim Anwar, Josh Charles, Cherry Jones, Scott Takeda, Eli Goodman and Soledad O’Brien.

Screenplay by Robert Carlock.

Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures.  111 minutes.  Rated R.

Tina Fey and Robert Carlock have had a very fruitful, long-running partnership.  Over seven years of 30 Rock and now two seasons of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the two have been responsible for creating some of the funniest and smartest television in the past decade.  Going back further, they also worked together on Saturday Night Live.

Therefore, it is not a great surprise that when Fey decided to return to behind-the-scenes filmmaking (not merely as a gun-for-hire actress) – for the first time since 2004’s Mean Girls, which Fey wrote – it was likely that she would work with her long-time partner.  Therefore, Carlock wrote the screenplay (with a little bit of help from Fey, I’d wager) and Fey produced and starred.

Perhaps they were due a bit of a stumble.  Which is not to say Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (I assume it is not a mere coincidence that the title is military lingo for WTF) is a bad film.  In some ways it is a very good movie.  But it is also a very uneven movie.  More like two movies jammed into one – it starts off as a really rather funny fish out of water movie (well at least as funny as any movie about the Afghanistan conflict can be), but ends up a much more serious look at the dangers of being a journalist in a war zone.

Either of these moods are totally legitimate to a film.  Also, due to the fact that it is based on a true story, quite possibly this is how things happened.  But as a movie-going experience, it felt a bit disjointed, like the end and the beginning were from different films.

Based on the book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot tells the story of a network TV news copywriter who decided to go into the war zone to get some camera time and experience under fire.  At first she is in totally over her head, with only fellow reporters looking out for her, but eventually through the experience she blossoms into a serious newswoman.

It’s an interesting situation, but one in which the filmmakers honestly don’t take complete advantage of the possibilities.  Fey’s character feels oddly cut off from the audience through most of the film, so it is hard to get a rooting interest going.  Her relationships with other reporters – particularly Margot Robbie’s saucy British veteran TV journalist and Martin Freeman’s cynical foreign correspondent – feel rushed, and thus when one stabs Fey’s character in the back professionally and the other is put in mortal danger, the audience is still trying to decide who these people are.

The second half of the film, which is mostly wartime action and personal and professional soap opera, nearly overwhelms the good-natured black comedy of the first half.  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot eventually does work as a film, but it could have been much more entertaining if it had just decided what kind of film it was trying to be.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2016 All rights reserved. Posted: June 28, 2016.

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