Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: Film Review

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: Film Review

Cast: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Christopher Abbott, Billy Bob Thornton
Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

That Tina Fey is the major revelation as an actor is perhaps the best takeaway of the slightly ramshackle Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Based on The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan, the war memoirs of Kim Baker, and from the directors of Crazy, Stupid Love, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is all about subverting the norms and expectations of the conventional war pic.

And it works to varying degrees.

Fey stars as Baker, a dissatisfied reporter stuck in a dead-end job and determined to turn things around. On a whim, she signs up to cover the conflict in Afghanistan in 2002, full of journalistic bluster and self-doubt.

However, when she gets to Afghanistan, she finds the Kabul atmosphere somewhat hedonistic as the embedded journalists there live life to the large, stuck in the mundanity of war time gallows humour and of a conflict that's already on the wane in the news cycle.

Initially awkward, Baker strikes up a friendship with fellow female reporter Tanya Vanderpoel (Robbie) and the pair work their way through the daily routine. But, as ever in wartime, there are casualties - both of the heart and of the human kind.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is an odd affair, a kind of dramedy that relies more on wry writing and a powerhouse delivery from Fey to see it through, rather than a stereotypical war movie with a comedy actress inserted in.

If your perception of Fey is solely as a comedic performer, the more restrained edges she brings to Kim Baker will be a welcome shock to your system, proving she has more than the dramatic chops needed to pull off the nuances necessary.

If Fey is impressive though, Girls' star Christopher Abbott eclipses what she does as Fahim, the native helper and guide to Baker. His is a turn of rare complexity, of understatement and one of the stand-outs of the film. And in an ensemble cast that numbers Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina and Margot Robbie, that is quite the feat.

By necessity, as the story has to cover several years worth of material, it jumps around a lot. Consequently though and unfortunately, it means some of the emotional heft of life within the self-coined "Kabubble" doesn't quite hit as perhaps it should or indeed could.

Some scenes hang together and then disappear, which is a shame because the rough and ready nature of how it's shot gives this unconventional wartime tale the sheen and grit it needs. This is no typical war story and it doesn't play out like you'd expect from the likes of Good Morning, Vietnam. You know a dramatic event is coming at some point, and unfortunately, in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, when it does show, the rushed conflict and sudden tonal whiplash of the final act jars a little (a rivalry, a kidnapping), leaving a feeling of contrivance rather than a deeper emotional immersing in events.

A bit more focus in some places and some slightly more fleshed out dramatic seeding would have greatly improved the at times satirical Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

All that said though, this is a film where both Fey and Abbott rise high above the material; they deliver human performances and elevate the slightly rougher edges of the jumpy story to leave you feeling that this is a tale whose complexities would have been better served with a more singular focus, but whose journey has delivered up two of the strongest acting surprises of the year.

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