WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT
Director: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love) Starring: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton Verdict: War can be hell ... and a hell of a job
THERE is something about Tina Fey’s style of humour – which is all about accumulating plenty of short, sharp jabs rather than landing a knockout blow – which sizzles on TV, but rarely gets warm on the big screen.
The creator and star of the peerless sitcom 30 Rock most recently turfed out in the esteemed company of Amy Poehler in the dire Sisters.
So it is not unfair to state that general expectations are low for Fey’s latest movie, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
But wouldn’t you just know it? This effective blend of genial light comedy and intelligent drama is the best thing Fey has done as a film performer by a considerable space. Fey stars as Kay Baker, a woman in her early 40s whose career as a TV news producer back in the early 2000s has hit a distinct dead-end.
The only way out is to take up an offer nobody else in her department dares accept: covering the war in Afghanistan as an embed with US troops stationed in Kabul.
As on-air talent, Kay is barely qualified for the assignment. However, as soon as hardline combat breaks out around her, she is more taken aback than anyone by how motivated she is by one life-or-death situation after another.
In spite of the setting, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not a war picture. At least not in the traditional sense.
Though co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love) do a fine job of capturing the strange battleground on which America fought the Taliban, the film excels in depicting the close bonds that form among those both covering and caught up in the ongoing conflict.
The city of Kabul itself is referred to as “the Ka-bubble”: an alternate reality where sex, drugs and a rolling bar tab are the only means possible to keep depression at bay. A place where one’s inner demons can actually form a crucial outer layer of protection.
The film’s one marked flaw is that though its atmosphere and characters are forcefully vivid, the story (based on the real-life exploits of cable news journalist Kay Barker) never builds to anything quite so colourful. It is certainly not the fault of an always on-point Fey, however, whose easy chemistry with a fine support cast (including an excellent Margot Robbie as a rival reporter) keeps the audience interested and involved throughout.