Sunday, June 26, 2016
Video review: "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot"
It crashed and burned at the box office, but “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is a wry and disturbing look at the underbelly of wartime journalism.
Tina Fey plays Kim Baker, a trepid reporter sent to cover Afghanistan in the years after the American invasion. At first put off by the threatening surroundings, alien fundamentalist culture and hard-partying ways of her fellow expats, she eventually learns to “embrace the suck” until the insane feels normal.
Very loosely based on a memoir by Kim Barker – I’m not really sure what the one-letter name change accomplishes – it’s a dark comedy with some surprisingly dramatic notes.
(If you’re wondering about the title, it’s NATO phonetic alphabet as used by the military; take the first letters of each word to obtain an all-encompassing acronym.)
Kim is a struggling cable TV news producer of a certain age who finds her life stuck. On a whim she accepts an assignment to Kabul, intending to stay three months but eventually signing on for the long haul. She struggles to adapt to life here, where foreign journalists all live in the same compound, drinking, dancing and sleeping together.
Tanya, a stunning veteran played by Margot Robbie, helpfully informs Kim that while she may be a “5 or 6” on the attractiveness scale in New York, here in the macho male-dominated “Kabubble” she’s at least a 9. Kim resists the urge to fall into people’s beds and instead racks up some impressive scoops with the help of Fahim (Christopher Abbott), a smart and sensitive local man who acts as her interpreter and “fixer.”
There is also a charming scamp of a Scottish photographer (Martin Freeman) offering his services, both professional and personal; a powerful Afghan official (Alfred Molina) trading in similar wares, though he wants to trade his for hers; and Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton), a severe Marine general who views Kim as another annoyance but eventually develops something resembling… grudging tolerance.
“This war is like f***ing a gorilla,” he offers, when asked about the state of the conflict. “You keep going until the gorilla wants to stop.”
It may not be as smart and sharp as, say, “Broadcast News,” but “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” provides a funny peek behind the curtain of those foreign reports we see on television – usually just for a moment before we change the channel.
We’ve cheered and wept aplenty about our foreign adventures over the last decade and a half, so here is a welcome chance to laugh a little, too.
Video extras are quite good, though you’ll have to spring for the Blu-ray upgrade to get them: the DVD contains exactly zero.
With the Blu-ray you get deleted and extended scenes plus a comprehensive making-of documentary, “All In.” There are also featurettes on the real Kim Barker, how the military embeds journalists, Afghan weddings and the vices foreign correspondents use to cope with the threat of constant danger.