So far as war movies go, I’m getting a little tired of the War on Terror movies. There have been quite a few in the last several years – some good, some bad. It’s not that I dislike the subject or think it’s any less important but there’s just so many of them. In a sea of Oscar-bait, dramatic, action-packed war movies following super tough guys “doing what needs to be done,” it’s kind of nice to see Tina Fey and Martin Freeman adrift in a fish out of water dramedy, which happens to take place during the war. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is a war film that’s not like a lot of other war films.
Kim Baker (Tina Fey) is a news copywriter at a major network. While every reporter the network has is on assignment in Iraq, Afghanistan is left without, so she volunteers to head over to Kabul and start a new career as an on-air journalist. The film chronicles her time in Afghanistan and Pakistan, covering the war from 2003 to 2006, and the various other reporters, militants, guides and politicians who she met and worked with while the world lost interest, giving less and less coverage to what was going on over there.
I went in to see the film without having seen the trailer or anything other than the poster, and I had friends and colleagues describe this to me as a movie about women’s rights, about the plight of the soldiers, a comedy with Tina Fey in Iraq – you name it. It’s really not about any of that. This movie, as I took it, is about those people who went to the Middle East, both soldier and civilian, to “do what needs to be done” and got no help. The soldiers were given fewer and fewer resources as the war in Iraq escalated, the networks gave their reporters less and less air time and the Afghans fought everybody all the way. This movie is about struggle against everyone.
That being said, there definitely are undertones of the struggle for women’s rights in the Middle East. I don’t know if I would count it as an official subplot, but it crops up in little bits here and there. The subtlety that this movie employs is perfect. From the symbolism of dogs in a courtyard to a bike on the back of her SUV in America, to the NATO phonetic abbreviation in the film’s title, this movie does subtlety so well. And it’s with this deft hand that the women’s rights message is peppered throughout the film without feeling preachy.
For example, towards the end of the film, Baker is being taken back to the airport by her Afghan contact. She is talking with him about normal things and asks how his twins are. He says they are good, the boy is very strong. She smiles, looks out the window of the car and says, “I bet the girl is strong too.” Her contact replies “even stronger.” It’s little things like this that are beautiful moments in film. Putting this towards the end of the movie, they are wrapping things up and summarizing the themes and lessons they hoped to impart upon the audience. Sometimes storytellers have a character say, “I learned something today.” But by this little exchange between old war buddies in a car, the message is still stated and becomes even more powerful.
This is a pretty good movie. As stated, it’s a war movie that’s not really a war movie because it follows journalists instead of soldiers. It gives a different look at the same situation from the other side of the camera. It’s probably not as moving nor powerful as some of the other films that have been done on the same subject but it is sweet and expertly written by Robert Carlock. I think this is one of those movies that won’t be crazy successful when received by the public but will remain in film classes in college for years to come.
Rated R, I give this film 3.5 out of five stars.