Review: ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ Surprises and Hits Hard
Intense At Times | Great Characters | Perfect Casting
I know I’m not the only one who was a little worried about this film. It’s not that Tina Fey isn’t a great comedic actress, but her resume has made all moviegoers around the world know exactly what they are going to get when they go see one of her films. At first glance of the trailer, you felt a sense that “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” was going to be a Tina Fey comedy set in early 2000s Afghanistan. That, right there, seems like it’s going to be lackluster and inappropriate, not because the film wouldn’t be good, but mainly because a Tina Fey film in Afghanistan seems like ill-advised comedy set within a big ball of confusion (hence the acronym W.T.F.).
Still, I had my hopes up, particularly because I know how great of a storyteller and professional Tina Fey is when it comes to her craft. I also knew she wouldn’t do anything intentional to put herself in a bad light (politically). Thankfully, I was right about this. I was surprised with how good “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” was, and how much I enjoyed seeing Tina Fey in a relatively serious role.
Cinematics – 4
No need to talk about the directing, cinematography, sound or any of the technical aspects of the film. Everything on that level was done quite well, especially during the chaotic sequences where Kim Baker (Tina Fey) goes for broke and gets right in the middle of a firefight with her camera. The directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa should be proud of the great film they made here, but Robert Carlock should be especially proud for the characters and story he created within his screenplay.
The characters and casting are the best parts about this film. Every single one is different, and every single one keeps the film moving, fresh and interesting. At first I was watching the film thinking, “Oh no, all the supporting characters are going to be interesting and Tina Fey is going to be a snoozer stuck in the middle, stealing all of the spotlight.” Thankfully, I was wrong about that. Tina Fey has the most surprising performance out of the entire cast. It’s not that I didn’t believe Tina Fey could do it; it’s the fact that I witnessed her (truly) serious side for the first time. It was refreshing and kind of relieving, because after the break into Act Two I knew all former assumptions about the film had gone right out the window.
With this great cast of characters, we also get some of the best relationships I’ve seen on film in recent years. Everyone from the love interest Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman) to the best friend/rival Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) to Baker’s wonderfully portrayed driver/handyman Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott) and to the hilarious but serious General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thorton) are absolutely wonderful to watch with Tina Fey (the chemistry between all of the actors is insane). Those are only a few of the relationships you get to experience Baker go through during the course of the film, but many of them will make you walk away with tears of sadness and joy.
The only TRUE complaint I have on the technical aspect of this film is the fact that Baker doesn’t have a clear external goal for the first half of the film. Sure, what’s going on during the first 50 minutes of the film is interesting, but it feels like a biopic, where a bunch of events happen that build character but don’t have much of a purpose to a plot. That does change after the halfway mark, where Baker feels compelled to find a great story in Afghanistan because she believes what’s going on there is important, and she needs the great story to keep her job. After that, the film is off to the races, but not enough to make you forget that the first half of the movie does feel like a biopic with no plot… It’s the good kind of biopic, though.
Entertainment Value – 4
With the exception to the plot-less first, I absolutely enjoyed this film. I’ve already talked about how good the characters, relationships and casting were, which are the main reasons for my entertainment, but I also enjoyed the intense firefights, bombings and political rallies that Baker arrogantly decides to cover and the film’s take on adrenaline addiction that over-encumbers Baker at one time.
Think a VERY low-key “The Hurt Locker” when I say the film’s take on adrenaline addiction. This addiction isn’t a new phenomenon or anything; people have developed and suffered from it for many years, warriors and non-warriors alike, but how the film presents it is in a very low-key and subtle way. You never get the feeling that Baker has become addicted to the intensity and chaotic nature of being a war reporter until it’s too late, which is the recipe for a great scene between her and Fahim. I’m not surprised they included this in the film, but I’m also happy they did because it helped solidify the film’s serious tone, totally annihilating the pre-release assumptions of it being a “Tina Fey movie in war-torn Afhagnistan.”
And where would we be without the comedy? It’s a Tina Fey film, so of course there’s comedy! The comedy might not be over-saturated throughout like many of her previous films, which is a good thing in my opinion, but there’s enough of it to develop a few chuckles and a couple big laughs. The comedy is mainly used as tools of relief from the intense nature of war and seriousness of adrenaline addiction, but that’s about it. I didn’t feel like the comedy was ever disrespectful or unnatural to the film’s tone and the story. It all seamlessly fit in a respectful and intelligent manner.
The film has a heart, a deep and brilliant heart that will get your adrenaline pumping and your heartstrings weeping. I think that’s what I mostly enjoyed about this film. Films like “Charlie Wilson’s War” were great dramatic comedies because at the base of everything was a good heart. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” has the same kind of heart, leaving you satisfied with almost every aspect of the film in the end.
Rewatchability – 4
Will I go see it three times in the theaters like I did “Deadpool?” No, probably not, but I definitely recommend everyone to go see it. Is this film going to be added to my DVD collection? It most surely will be, on Blu-Ray to be exact. It’s the type of film I want to show to my friends because I know it will surprise them just as much as it surprised me. When a film makes you want to show it to others (because it’s good), then the filmmakers and storytellers did it right.
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is full of surprises, intensity and heart. Most of those surprises come from the excellent casting, characters and performances that you wouldn’t expect in a typical Tina Fey film, but this isn’t the typical Tina Fey film. This is a drama (with a bit of comedy) about a war journalist in war-torn Afghanistan. Despite the goal-less first half of the film, you’ll walk away from this one satisfied and touched, completely disagreeing with the pre-release assumptions that a “Tina Fey war movie” wouldn’t be worth the money. It is, and make sure to bring your tissues.