Let me cut to the chase.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Precisely for the reasons that it has received mixed reviews from the liberal Hollywood press.
This is not an absurdist, anti-war film like “Catch 22”, based on Joseph Heller’s classic World War II novel of the same name.
Nor is this film- an anti-war satirical film as “M.A.S.H., which took place during the Korean War.
Nor is this a lame, unfunny, anti-American and anti-military, Michael Moore- produced piece of celluloid crap,
“Where to Invade Next”.
Instead Whiskey Tango Foxtrot ( Whiskey Tango) is a sympathetic comic/dramatic depiction of America’s fighting men and women and the flawed, sex/ booze/drug/ and combat-addicted male and female journalists who embedded with them in Kabul, during the Afghanistan War from 2003-2006.
This film produced by Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live fame and Tina Fey (SNL, 30 Rock), is loosely based upon the Afghanistan war memoirs of former Chicago Tribune reporter, now New York Times investigative reporter, Kim Barker. Barker’s book entitled, “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan”.
Tina Fey, plays the Kim Barker role as Kim Baker, a lowly copy writer on a no name cable network based in New York. She seems to be in a dead end job writing about the evils of fructose. She is also locked in a passionless relationship with a depressive boyfriend, Josh Charles, who is never in town.
Fey as Kim Baker is given the chance to change her life and become a foreign war correspondent in Kabul, Afghanistan, reporting from the field for her New York cable network.
All of sudden, Liz Lemon goes to Kabul.
Like her 30 Rock character, Fey plays a nerdy, workaholic with a mediocre social life in New York.
But in crazy Kabul, as her frenemy, fellow journalist Tanya ( beautiful Margot Robbie, “Wolf of Wall Street” and playing herself as naked hot tub girl in “The Big Short”) so wittily suggests, whereas Baker may be a “6” in New York, she is a solid “9 ½” in Kabul. Due to the absence of any western women in the field.
Accordingly, “plain Jane” Baker during the film spends a good deal of time fending off the sexual advances, of Nic (Steven Peacocke), her New Zealand bodyguard, Iain (Martin Freeman), a randy Scottish photojournalist and a local Afghan public official Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina).
Tina Fey is once again sharp, funny, feisty, tough and, independent. Her comic timing- bang on. As Baker, she is also initially clueless about the cultural complexities of an American female journalist in female-unfriendly Islamic Kabul.
Baker naively lets her hijab uncover her hair and she is called a shameless whore by a female Muslim in the Kabul street. Baker loses her American dollars to the wind. She is scammed by a young beggar. And she is nearly beaten by an angry Muslim mob, when she is caught filming a group of men, in an area where women are clearly prohibited.
Fortunately, for Fey/Baker, she is often saved and protected in Kabul by a local driver, fixer and translator Fahim, a local Muslim Afghan, played skillfully with quiet strength and intelligence by a bearded, heavyset and unrecognizable Christopher Abbott ( indecisive Charlie, Marnie’s boyfriend in the hit comic tv series, “Girls”).
Though the cultural differences are immense- by the end of the film, they bridge the cultural divide, and Baker and Fahim forge a friendship of mutual respect. Their final separation, as Baker returns to New York, for good, is very touching- literally and figuratively.
While embedded with the Marines on an exploratory mission, outside the “wire”, that is, outside America’s walled off compound, a fire fight ensues between the Americans and the Taliban forces. At great risk to herself, Baker throws herself in harm’s way to film the fire fight.
A few things happen here for Baker. She loves the adrenaline rush of combat. And Baker earns some respect from tough Marine colonel Hollanek , played wonderfully by Billy Bob Thornton. Who also warns Baker that though she may be a “4” in New York, she is a “10” here. And therefore, no distracting his men by shagging them.
As the film unfolds we watch Baker gain confidence through quick cuts of Baker, on air reporting confidently about various battles and developments in and around Kabul by day. And partying hard in the frat-house like compound for ex pat journalists, by night. Where there is nightly sex, drugs and rock and roll. Hooya!!!
What was memorable for me was how effectively the film puts the Baker character into difficult and delicate situations as a woman in a male-dominated war and a strictly male-dominated Islamic society, and how Fey/Baker adroitly navigates herself in these situations. And learns and reports on these situations.
In one scene, Baker is approached by a group of village women completely covered from head to toe, including their faces, who inform her that they, not the Taliban are blowing up the wells built by the Marines so that they can go to the river to fetch water. That being the only place they can freely talk and gossip away from the harsh restrictions imposed upon them by the mullahs of the village. Baker wins kudos from the colonel for that valuable intell.
In another funny but touching scene, Baker must in turn wear a full blue chador, which she jokingly refers to as to being encased in a full blue Ikea bag, in order to travel to the more dangerous Taliban-controlled city of Kandahar.
Where she witnesses and reports, first-hand on a fire-bombed school for young women.
Unlike in the Academy Award- winning film, “Spotlight”, I particularly liked the way the film depicts these war-hardened journalists and photo-journalists, more honestly, as flawed human beings- motivated by ego, ambition and apparently addicted to seeking greater risks and dangers, often at the expense of those around them.
Finally, kudos to Fey, Michaels, the writer Robert Carlock, directors Glen Ficarra, John Requa and of course, Kim Baker for having the guts to bring the story of the forgotten war of Afghanistan onto the screen and to America.
Fortunately the Age of Obama is coming to a close. It was a sorry time in American history, when America’s fighting forces were ignored as a nuisance. Instead of being honored for their service to their country. But the pendulum is swinging back. Above all, this film honors America’s fighting men and women in far off wars.
Who fight and put their lives at risk, so Afghan girls can get an education and American men and women are protected from vicious and evil radical Islamists as ISIS.