Film Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (★★★)

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whiskey_tango_foxtrotThere’s a lot of different elements bumping up together in the war zone set dramedy Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Sometimes it wants to be a workplace comedy about a fish out of water. Other times it wants to be a tragic drama about the cost of a forgotten war. Then there’s just the odd moments where it tries to do its own unique thing. These elements don’t always work well with each other in filmmakers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa‘s latest, but the whole package comes together in recommendation worthy form due, in large part, to the lead performance from Tina Fey. She commands the screen in a way that I’ve never seen from her before. She nails the comedy, of course, but she really shines in the dramatic moments as well. The film isn’t on the level of something to be worthy of Oscar attention, but this feels like an audition for a future role that’s going to win her some awards. Call it a hunch. The rest of the movie ends up being decent enough, but without Fey, this would be a two and a half star review, not a three star one. Whether teamed up with a solid supporting cast or on her own, she really stands tall in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. This is a flick probably initially meant for a juicer release date, but coming out in March will actually allow us to appreciate Fey’s work here even more than we might have otherwise.

Set during the early days of our new War on Terror, we follow journalist Kim Baker (Fey) as she transitions from a boring New York City life to one spent on the front lines, covering soldiers in Afghanistan. Initially shown to be in way over her head, Kim is teamed up with a kind hearted translator in Fahim (Christopher Abbott), the rare other female reporter in Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), as well as smooth talking Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman). Much to the chagrin of her boyfriend back home (Josh Charles), this assignment becomes a long term one for Kim, as she makes contacts in the Afghan government (Alfred Molina), gets stories on the air, and begins to care deeply about this seemingly forgotten conflict. The tone isn’t as consistent as you’d like, but Fey deftly guides us through it all. Without her, I just don’t think that this film would have fully worked.

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There’s no question in my mind, this is the Tina Fey show here. She’s able to handle both the humorous moments, mostly centered on her acclimation to the setting, as well as the more dramatic ones, especially when the cost of war is really hammered home for Kim. There’s a more or less stacked supporting cast in place, but they’re just that here, supporting. Fey gets all of the most affecting lines, moments, and really all of the attention from the filmmakers. As such, you could even argue that the supporting players are under utilized. Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman both have excellent chemistry with Fey, but come off as blander characters on their own. Robbie fares better than Freeman though, I’ll give her that. There’s also the odd casting of Christopher Abbott and Alfred Molina as muslim characters. Both are fine in their roles and also interact well with Fey, but I can’t help but question why they were given the parts as opposed to actors who share the actual ethnicity of the characters. Billy Bob Thornton is wasted in a small part, as is the aforementioned Josh Charles. Also on hand are the likes of Nicholas Braun, Cherry Jones, Evan Jonigkeit, and more, but this is all about Fey for me.

Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have always mixed genres in their previous work, with the most effective having been Crazy Stupid Love, but this is the first time they’re really inching towards a prestige picture. At the very least, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is their most ambitious film yet. Unfortunately, it’s one of their more uneven ones as well. It’s still good enough to recommend, obviously, but the screenplay they’re working off of from Robert Carlock just isn’t quite as funny or as poignant as they seem to think it is. Ficarra and Requa show off an ability to handle a larger scoped movie, but they just lucked out in getting Fey for the lead role. Had they been unable to score her, I think this would have been too flawed to embrace.

Overall, I found Whiskey Tango Foxtrot to be an excellent showcase for Fey’s dramatic skills, while only a decent dramedy aside from that. It works just enough for a recommendation, so don’t assume this isn’t a good movie, but it’s one that benefits greatly from its leading lady. The film is worth seeing, that’s for sure, you just need to keep your expectations somewhat in check. It’s not Academy Award worthy, though perhaps Fey will get some Golden Globe attention next year, but it’s worthy of your time. Especially if you like Fey, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot offers up a quality time in cinemas.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!