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‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ Has Tina Fey At Her Best (Movie Review)

whiskey tango foxtrot thumbPushing convention aside, it is great to get a comedy where smart characters actually do and say smart things. That should be simple enough, yet so many films fail to deliver. Time and time again, we watch supposedly smart characters commit the most idiotic of actions to drive a plot forward. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a war comedy that may not push any sort of agenda very hard, but does well by its characters.

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Tina Fey stars as Kim Barker, a journalist who decides to become a war correspondent in Afghanistan, which turns into the assignment with no discernible end. There she meets others journalists played to winning effect by Martin Freeman and Margot Robbie and occasionally corresponds with authority figures played by an ace (as usual) Billy Bob Thorton and Alfred Molina in brownface. Various forms of comedy, drama and romance ensue in a film that is less about narrative and more about looking at the lives of these characters.

Coming a year after their previous film, Focus, the Will Smith/Margot Robbie con artist flick that was heavy on twisty plot details, directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa seem to be reveling in making a film so scattered in telling a story. That is one of the few things getting in the way of crafting a great movie, being a bit too loose, but otherwise we have a consistently entertaining study of characters who deal with the situation in Afghanistan.

The film actually takes place in the mid-2000s, as it is based on a memoir by the real Kim Barker, but you get a good idea of the kind of story being told. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is largely apolitical in terms of diving into what these journalists believe in, but the film does throw some biting commentary on how little regard there seems to be towards America’s presence in Afghanistan. It leads to some interesting moments in the film, which is a good enough way to keep it from solely functioning as a fish-out-of-water comedy.

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However, putting Fey into this sort of situation does prove to be a good way to examine world culture in its regard towards women. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is the kind of film that can actually feature three actresses (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night’s Sheila Vand is also featured) having intelligent conversations that steer clear of relationship chatter, while factoring in the gender differences and attitudes seen in different nations. Fey’s initial newfound presence in Afghanistan allows for some interesting observations that occasionally lead to comedic material as well.

It is probably also a good time to mention that this is Fey’s best work yet on film. The kind of esteem she built up on 30 Rock plays well here in a film that aptly balances comedy and drama. It doesn’t hurt that she is supported by good actors. Freeman, in particular, is a wonderful presence and one of the highlights in a film that is made up of a lot of great smaller moments. Given how breezy Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is about a lot of things, having little character details and good banter goes a long way in leaving me happy as I think back on what made me enjoy it.

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Given my enthusiasm towards what works, it is probably best to look over a couple questionable elements. A key relationship between Kim and her Afghan translator/driver is undone by my realization that a white actor was cast in the role for no discernible reason (these may just be lingering thoughts based on seeing so many white Egyptians in last week’s Gods of Egypt). The loose nature of the film also may have you questioning the tonal balance when it comes to digging into some of the deeper consequences of war.

Minor issues aside, looking at the fun scenes featuring solid jokes and a fine rapport between the actors was what won me over with this film. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot doesn’t dig into the deepest of issues, coming off more like an imperfect M*A*S*H for this generation, but Fey shines in a film that is consistently engaging.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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