Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa | 107 minutes | biography, comedy, drama, war | Actors: 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, Soledad O Brien, Thomas Kretschmann, Demosthenes Chrysan, Hakim Zamir, Jon Kristian Moore, David Stanford, Vic Browder, Howard Ferguson Jr., Matthew Page
It is 2003, the war in Iraq has just broken out and at the office of the news channel where Kim Baker (Tina Fey) works, it is made clear that the war in Afghanistan has less priority from now on. Due to the lack of popularity for the job, all unmarried, childless employees are rounded up and asked if they don’t even want to get out of their desks and become a war reporter in Afghanistan. Before she realizes what she’s done, Baker says yes and she’s on the plane to Kabul, where she really realizes what she signed up for.
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is loosely based on journalist Kim Barker’s book “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. The one-letter difference in surname is an indicator of the fiction level; the film captures the essence of the book but does not stick to the facts one hundred percent. For example, Barker was a journalist of the written word, not a television reporter. For the entertainment value of the movie, it is of course a lot more fun to see Fey bumbling on live television than tapping behind a laptop, and so more adjustments creep in. The supporting roles of South African journalist Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) and photographer Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman) are therefore more allegorical. They give Baker a crash course in Kabul nightlife and soon the best, yet competitive, are friends.
What “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is good at is depicting the absurdity of everyday situations that Baker encounters in her work. Heavily armed security guards with unicorn stickers on their guns, lavish drinking parties in the basement of her apartment complex, and where to go when you need to pee on a military mission. Correspondents in Kabul also appear to have their own jargon and class system. For example, Baker is regularly pointed out to the 4-10-4 rule, which means that her hotness in the US may not be much, but that in Kabul she is a total babe due to scarcity. The contrast is accentuated by means of separate music choices in the soundtrack, such as hysterical top hits during military missions. This is also a stumbling block, however, because there is indeed a serious undertone hidden in the film. Baker gradually evolved from a timid desk clerk to a seasoned war reporter, and that brings its own complications. It becomes clear that this war is not a joke and that as a foreigner you cannot stomp through a conflict zone without consequences. This is largely lost in the comic screams, and is suddenly turned on strongly towards the end to compensate.
Tina Fey gets her characteristically dry, unrecognized character from the stable to bumble through the war in Afghanistan. It’s good for some wit, but most of the chuckles come from Robbie, Freeman, the almost unrecognizable Alfred Molina as the misogynistic prosecutor Sadiq, and the dozens of figures around them. Overall, however, the level of humor fluctuates too much, and “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is too unbalanced to really impress.