This symbolically and kicky titled film, “Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot” was produced by Tina Fey and dedicated to her Korean-veteran father who died in October. The movie which also stars Fey expects viewers to know something about the “Forgotten War”. Viewers will be amazed at Fey’s acting depth and the wide breath of the film’s themes. Go, girl! And kudos to screenwriter Robert Carlock, Fey’s oft time collaborator.
This is a film about female empowerment and career versus traditional life choices. It shows the emotional strength of our wounded and is provocative in the way many dramatic war films are, but here directors Glenn Ficarra and John Reua use absurdist humor to say, “This war is like fucking a gorilla. You keep going until the gorilla wants to stop.” Unlike Kim Baker,or Kim Barker, I could not paraphrase that.
Based on a true story documented in Kim Barker’s book, “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan”, this deceptively deep film changes Barker’s name to Baker and shows a rookie war correspondent with interviewing and listening skills to rival intricate military tactical charts and strategies. Granted there are some naive missteps, fueled by whiskey and false dance steps, but Fey shines as savvy and grounded in an off-beat way.
The situational humor is ironic and at times scorching. A small example is one of those ten-inch long adhesive size labels left on the front of Fey’s pants. In the midst of this wind, sand and blinding-sun war, a soldier is bothered to distraction by this fashion faux pas. Fey’s initial orange backpack draws more ire, as a sergeant barks: “Even the Dutch Army does not wear orange in combat.” When a Kabul woman screams: “Cover your head, shameless whore” we wince. Yet, fashion police are fashion police. There is a hilarious scene where in her burka-blue prison, Fey draws turbaned and unturbaned heads. Sexiness is made ubiquitous.
The supporting actors are real and affecting. Billy Bob Thornton as Commanding General directs the cool imperative: ” Do not distract my marines.” But there are lots of distractions from hookah dens and disco dancing; to hunky, personal security guards, to signs reading NYC 6881 miles this way. Let alone the betting on insect fights and the viewing of bestiality porn. Everyone is free to tag along as long as one stays hydrated. When a battle is filmed or an eighty-thousand-dollar shot at a car is taken, all the foreign press celebrate the aired story. Margot Robbie, Austrailian beauty of “Wolf Of Wall Street Fame”, plays Tanya Vanderpoel, a fellow female reporter whose sophisticated carriage has the tyro-like Fey using a phony French accent to upgrade her background as ” domestic reportage”. Alfred Molina is hysterical as the hypocritical Minister Of Vice and Virtue, and Martin Freeman is arresting as the Scottish photojournalist and Fey’s love interest, even though initially she tells him that ” the Irish accent is not to be confused with personality.” “Scottish” he tells her, “actually.” Josh Charles, Will Gardner in the television series “The Good Wife”, is the unfaithful boyfriend back home. His dalliance is briefly recorded during a Sykpe conversation where Kim ( Fey) asks him to come visit her in Kabul. Christopher Abbott as Fahim Ahmadzai is brilliant and constant. Kim’s wild behavior is explained by him. ” You are not yourself anymore. You are in “Kabubble”: it changes your perception of who you are.”
The score is so effective that a few scenes elicit tears. “Can’t live without you” lyrics detail the depth of Kim’s involvement in Iain’s ( her boyfriend’s) release. Goats bleat, lambs are slaughtered, but Kim does her best. One such scene is where Iain MacKelpie ( Martin Freeman) is released from the Taliban. Another is where bomb-melted crayons on a child’s desk pressage scrawled graffiti stating ” No education for women.” Another is when Kim is leaving Kabul, and she tells her driver and friend that in her culture she would hug him. Fahim’s stoic demeanor is offset by his hand slowly touching hers on a suitcase handle. Be prepared for some horrifyingly gruesome imagery, a double amputee who you will love, and an egg-boy whom you will admire as he begs in the street. Women bombing wells in order to socialize and a Middle Eastern wedding round out events.
At the film’s end, Kim asks Fahim about his new family. He reports that his son is strong. Kim counters with ” I bet his twin sister is, too.” Fahim whispers that she is stronger, and we believe him. I loved this nuanced film with its “Embrace the suck, and move forward” theme.