Editor’s Notes: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot will be released on its respective home video format on June 28th.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Paramount) is based on the memoir The Taliban Shuffle by journalist Kim Barker about her experiences covering war in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 2000s. Tiny Fey stars as Kim, last name slightly altered to Baker and job altered from print to TV reporter. Kim leaves her position and safety as news writer stateside for an opportunity to etch a name for herself — and get some on-air time — by reporting from Afghanistan. She leaves behind a boyfriend, hoping to return in three months. But circumstances and her nose for news stories keep her there and months turn into years.
There are some early fish-out-of-water sequences as Kim enters an unfamiliar country. Thoroughly unprepared for her assignment, she doesn’t know the language, customs, politics, or history of the country, and undergoes acclimation by fire with the help of local fixer/driver/interpreter Fahim (Christopher Abbott), fellow female journalist Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), and bodyguard Nic (Stephen Peacocke). Soon immersed in the reality of a third-world nation at war, she attempts to rise to her responsibilities.
Though these scenes suggest a Private Benjamin-type comedy, the movie quickly reveals itself to be much more. We see the day-to-day life of journalists who often put themselves in harm’s way to pursue a story, and their downtime partying, which involves lots of drinking. Tanya takes Kim under her wing and introduces her to the realities of wartime coverage. They bond because they are the only female reporters among scores of men. Tanya confides in Kim that a woman who is a 6 or 7 in the states is easily a 10 in Kabul.
Kim locks horns initially with General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton), a no-nonsense officer who has little patience for babysitting a reporter. Later, when Kim investigates the repeated destruction of wells dug for the local populace and discovers the cause, she begins to earn his grudging respect.
Ms. Fey can’t help but covey intelligence, even in comic roles. As Kim, she is vulnerable, yet determined to make good in a tough assignment — a serious reporter willing to do what it takes to get a story. With flak jacket and ill-fitting helmet, Fey’s Kim may be an amusing figure, visually, but she never hesitates to pursue a lead that might turn up a good story. Wisely, the script downplays one-liners in favor of advancing plot. There are jokes, but more the kind uttered by those who live the surreal horror of war daily and resort to humor rather than cynicism. Ms. Fey musters the dramatic chops to convey the emotional depth of a woman finding her way in a strange, often hostile environment.
An on-again, off-again side story finds Kim repeatedly deflecting the barely-veiled advances of Afghan official Ali Massed Sadiq (Alfred Molina), who promises access to information if Kim becomes his “special friend.” Not to be intimidated by this overture, Kim relies on brains rather than sex to induce him to comply.
About half-way through the film, we’re introduced to brash, foul-mouthed Scottish photographer Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), who falls for Kim, providing a romantic thread. Iain is a veteran of war reporting, having once been kidnapped by the enemy and wearing the incident as a badge of honor and journalistic cred.
Co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Sequa show both the terrible face of war and its lighter moments. Rated R for strong language, some sexual scenes, drug use, and a few violent war images, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (the title is an acronym, using the military phonetic alphabet, for an off-color phrase) depends more on culture clash than heavy-duty war footage. Like “M*A*S*H,” this movie treats war as the backdrop driving the action, not the centerpiece. The focus is a female outsider integrating herself into a male milieu during a period of cultural transition.
Bonus extras on the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include 5 behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, and extended scenes. A digital HD copy is enclosed.