WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT [2016]

whiskey

Directed by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Written by Robert Carlock (screenplay), Kim Barker (book)

Starring: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Christopher Abbott, Billy Bob Thornton


I was sceptical about this when I read the plot synopsis; a war-based comedy, or a dramedy as some like to say. I saw a few episodes of M.A.S.H. as a kid, but this is obviously a more serious take on war, taking a look at Afghanistan after the war in Iraq began to steal headlines. I wondered how they could find humour during a story about a female journalist turned war correspondent. They achieved this with a sharp script and plenty of humour based around the confusion of different cultures and languages. There are also some colourful Marines, particularly Billy Bob Thornton, who is tough but fair – I wish we saw more of him. This is also a dark comedy, with plenty of swearing, which seems apt as much of the film takes place in a war-zone, while many of the jokes seem a bit… wrong, considering the context. But still, I laughed, a lot more than I was expecting. The elderly people sitting in front of me found it funny as well.

Sick of working at a desk, writing articles that she doesn’t care about, journalist Kim Baker is corralled into a room along with other employees, all of whom have no family or attachments to home. This is because they want to report on the war in Afghanistan, a hard job for anyone. Kim has a boyfriend, and initially she only plans to stay overseas for three months. This of course doesn’t happen as Baker finds that there is a relaxed atmosphere among the press in the country, and she soon forms a bond with the only other female reporter in the area, Tanya (another impressive turn from Aussie Margot Robbie).

I know very little about Tina Fey, I can’t recall a movie I have seen her in. Here though she is convincing as a virgin-war-correspondent who is either extremely brave or extremely stupid, as she jumps into a battle to capture footage. It is her first triumph in her new job, and she celebrates with the press team, an assortment of characters who like to drink, smoke, and have fun. This struck a chord, having read a lot of Hunter S. Thompson. Whenever overseas working as a reporter, whether in South America or war-torn Vietnam, he readily made fun of his profession, remarking that many of his fellow journalists were booze-hounds who only had their jobs because they turned in quality work.

One thing that we don’t find out is: why is Afghanistan now being ignored by news outlets? As someone high-up remarks, and I am heavily paraphrasing here: “the people of America love the troops. But they also don’t want to watch them on the news.”

The film doesn’t explain why that comment doesn’t apply to Iraq, and I suppose deep knowledge of the US involvement in the Middle-East would be required to answer that question. Early in the film Kim interviews troops, and one gets the feeling that they aren’t doing much. They also agree that the war in Iraq has taken attention away from the war they are fighting, but again, we are never told why. The film could have really educated while still retaining its comic qualities. This isn’t the case, in fact throughout the film I constantly wondered why Kim wasn’t able to get anything newsworthy, simply because she was in the wrong country.

The film’s biggest flaw though is that the drama isn’t really apparent since such a humorous attitude has been taken. Despite being in a war-zone, the few action scenes have no emotional impact. There are a few scenes that depict the hardships that females have to go through in these countries, but this is a passing theme that barely makes a comment. This inability to balance comedy and drama is where this film falters the most, which is a pity as it is quite funny. The characters are all a little thin too, though there are a couple of memorable characters, especially Martin Freeman as a Scottish press-reporter with a taste for whiskey.

Despite the laughs, which are well done for the most part, the drama and action take a back-seat. This is a great story and I love that it features two bad-ass independent 4.5 beer - no beer topfemale characters who aren’t simple love-interests, but it fails as a drama, and while it is funny, it isn’t slap-your-thighs hilarious.

One and a half beers short of a six-pack

4.5/6