Over the past 10 years, war movies have become an interesting breed. In recent memory are Lone Survivor, American Sniper, and Fury. Each was rooted in its own form of gritty realism that addressed the horrors of war without glorifying it. These films are known for their less-than-uplifting tones—however, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s latest work, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, is anything but American society’s well-worn war story.
It’s a rare treat to walk into a movie theater and be presented with a surprise hit, but this is precisely the case with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Branded as a lighthearted, comedic jaunt centered around a wartime journalist’s coverage of Afghanistan, the film initially seems to be aiming to garner a few laughs, but nothing more. As the minutes pass, however, its true intentions become clear. Whiskey is much grander than a comedy—it is an exploration of the competing, disparate cultures of the Middle East and the western world. Sure, the laughs are there, but don’t let the film fool you—Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has a good deal of meaty substance to it, too.
In large part, this seamless blend of laughter and social commentary is made possible through the prestige of Tina Fey. Playing status-quo-loathing journalist Kim Baker, Fey creates a character that is simultaneously believable and relatable. The centerpiece of the film, Fey’s performance is arguably the best work she has done in her entire career. Backed by Margot Robbie as fellow journalist Tanya Vanderpoel, the duo makes a satisfying power couple and presents a thoroughly fleshed-out relationship that causes real anxiety when it begins to fracture. Martin Freeman also lends his acting expertise, and while still giving a solid performance, he is undoubtedly overshadowed by Fey and Robbie.
On the technical side, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot passes with flying colors. Cinematographer Xavier Grobet heavily favors wide, establishing shots, succeeding in painting a mural of the disparate Afghan landscape. Composer Nick Urata, known for his work on Crazy, Stupid, Love and Little Miss Sunshine, hits the nail on the head again, making poignant, emotionally charged music. This is reflected most heavily in the final scene of the film—as Baker drives her car down the dusty dirt road, Urata’s music choice will make hearts flutter.
Cinematography, cast, and commentary aside, perhaps the most refreshing piece of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is its unabashed realism on every level. The film is not afraid of gore and wartime violence—on at least two occasions Whiskey features graphic, disturbing imagery of battle wounds. Even more prevalent is its realistic depiction of sex and drugs—in such strenuous situations, it is understandable for those involved in broadcasting wartime footage to blow off steam, and the film does not shy away from this reality. By no means is Whiskey’s adult content gratuitous, but it is undoubtedly true to life, much to the film’s credit. Even when not dealing with more mature themes, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not scared of leaving the audience unsatisfied—not everyone will feel a fantastic sense of closure and happiness.
Of course, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is far from perfect. Strangely, it’s not very good at being what it’s supposed to be: a comedy. Whiskey’s humor has a tendency to fall somewhat flat, mostly because of its juvenile nature. Fey’s jokes are extremely hit-and-miss, and Freeman’s caricature of the “self-centered jerk with a heart of gold” trope often walks the line between uncomfortable and offensive.
Though the film remains extremely entertaining, Whiskey also feels stretched a bit thin in the second act of the story—a strong start and a strong finish are important, but it is difficult for the audience to remain interested through certain stages of Fey’s character’s transformation.
Still, these examples are two of the small handful of flaws Whiskey Tango Foxtrot holds. The beauty of Ficarra and Requa’s latest work far outweighs its shortcomings and is without question worth the price of admission.
Featured Image By Paramount Pictures