We here at CV Weekly are proud to have a diverse group of writers and reporters. As such, we have many different viewpoints on issues and stories. We would like to give you, the reader, a chance to view this first hand. Last week, our Leisure editor and reporter Charly Shelton reviewed “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” calling it “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.” This week, we have a differing opinion on the same film by dedicated film reviewer Susan James.
By Susan JAMES
Tina Fey is many things – funny, smart, adult – but very little of this shows in her new girl-goes-to-war film, “Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot.” Based on a 2011 memoir by Kim Barker about her days as a war correspondent in Afghanistan, the movie can’t decide what it wants to be. Is it a war story? A romantic, bleakly dark comedy? An action adventure? As it tries to hit all of these notes it becomes a fuzzy mess without focus, heart or much to add to the well-traveled tale of an innocent abroad.
Kim Baker (for some reason the screenwriter dropped the ‘r’) is played by Fey as an obtuse adrenalin junkie who has no problem putting her life and the lives of others in danger to get the big story. This the movie defines as courage. When the film opens in 2002 Kim is caught in the usual filmic female mid-life crisis. You know the one. Drippy, unfaithful boyfriend, boring, dead-end job, what’s-it-all-for weekends. She works as a reporter in New York on stories that are non-essential to an engaged existence. Then out of the blue she is offered the job of covering the American action in Afghanistan and, out of an excess of ennui, she accepts.
Cutting to the chase, five long years of Afghanistan and its horrors are carefully scripted as Kim’s road to Higher Learning and Ultimate Wisdom. She risks her life and those of her bodyguard and interpreter to film a truck with Taliban soldiers exploding, a scene that any good Michael Bay movie could replicate a dozen times. Furious that her brilliant film footage is not being broadcast back home (Afghanistan, her new boss tells her, is no longer sexy), she reaches for even higher levels of derring-do. At the same time she is getting friendly with the local color that includes journalists getting drunk, doing drugs and shagging anyone available. It may be real but it isn’t particularly entertaining to watch. Her friend in Kabul, British correspondent Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), is her role model. Free, loose and with no scruples about risking other people’s lives, Tanya, Kim learns the hard way, has no loyalties either.
Perhaps the greatest problem with the movie is its pile-on of clichés. A bearded Alfred Molina is cringingly creepy as Afghanistan’s rigid Islamic attorney general who can’t wait to get Kim into bed. The usually brilliant Martin Freeman does a disengaged walkabout as Kim’s sometime journalist lover, Iain MacKelpie, and Billy Bob Thornton looks as if he wandered in from a “Dr. Stangelove” remake as General Hollanek. The only character that brings a nuanced presence is Kim’s Afghan interpreter, Fahim Ahmadzai, played with grace and restraint by Christopher Abbott. A former medical doctor who is now reduced to translating for the troops, Abbott’s Fahim is a more interesting character than Baker and their relationship more involving than any of the other casual asides that count as human plot points.
If screenwriter Robert Carlock and directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa had spent more time on Fahim, the film might have been a greater success. As it is, “This is not the war story you were looking for.”
See you at the movies!