By: Akram Shaban
I was wondering why Tina Fey’s new Hollywood entry has such a weird name. Obviously, it’s a euphemism for ‘what the firetruck.’ But after a quick google search, it turns out it’s the name of a book based on the memoirs of a photojournalist who covered the recent War on Terror.
Given that there is a fictional Scottish photojournalist featured in the movie, I thought there may be a connection. I would try to find that out, but I limit my internet investigations to 10 seconds per movie, to match my attention span. It is a tongue twister, that’s for sure.
Enough with overanalysing movie titles, you’re here for a review! The hilarious Tina Fey stars as Kim Baker, based on the real-life journalist Kim Barker (with two R’s). Margot Robbie steals my heart once again, this time portraying Tanya Vanderpoel, presumably another fictional character. Martin Freeman also steals my heart as the aforementioned photojournalist Ian MacKelpie. Billy Bob Thornton, Christopher Abbott, and Alfred Molina are not used as wasted talent either, as they bring exceptional performances to the screen.
The movie tells the story of a female journalist who, with nothing to lose, accepts a T.V reporting assignment in Afghanistan. It is based on the memoirs of the real Kim, a print journalist, who volunteered for the position in 2002. While it may not entirely be grounded in reality, Fey’s adaptation is apparently good enough for Barker. It is also good enough for me.
Three things strike me as the factors that made the experience so good for me: the acting, the depiction of Afghanistan, and the struggles of the main character, Kim. Before going into the theatre I expressed to my fellow Film Lawyer that I have grown sick of movies depicting the Middle East. It is not as much the ‘false depictions’ as the eliciting of unkind responses from certain outspoken individuals that is troubling. This is not to mention the disaster that was London Has Fallen still fresh in mind. But I was optimistic since comedians nowadays seem to know better about discretion than some politicians do.
The cast is simply mesmerizing, each bringing their unique style to the screen. Fey is funny, serious, and everything in between. Nailing the deadpan comedic style you would expect from her, she manages to be simply real. You’re not watching her story unfold, but are rather taken on a ride where whatever happens, happens.
Martin Freeman returns to Afghanistan, in the 21st century this time. He is not the usual lovable, somewhat quirky, character, but instead a wisecracking jerk who eventually grows on you. His role, as with much of the cast, is predictable. But he brings a pleasant performance nonetheless. There’s always a big heart underneath the sarcasm and booze.
Margot Robbie truly seemed like she’s been based in Afghanistan for some time. Her career and her life share the same meaning as she initiates Fey’s character into the safe house dubbed the ‘Kabubble.’
Molina is hilarious and outrageous playing the quirky yet lustful top rank Afghan bureaucrat. Look for him, as he is disguised! Abbott also transforms into the quiet and composed Fahim, who guides Baker through Afghanistan, offering important life lessons along the way. The recipe for an impressive cast is complete with the Thornton cherry on top. He is both sarcastic and intimidating, but mostly sarcastic.
It would not be true if I described the focus of the film to be on the reality of reporting in Afghanistan during the first decade of the 2000s. There tended to be almost abrupt shifts in tone throughout. While some may deem this a flaw, I’d like to think that the changes in pace and tone reflect the unpredictability of real life. The plot goes from Baker struggling to find her next big story, to being a romantic comedy, to a ransom crisis and so on. I found the abruptness to be intriguing rather than distracting. It does pose the risk of the film lacking any clear vision, which is not entirely escaped in this case. It only presents a glimpse at the reality of overseas correspondence at the time.
The depiction of Afghanistan was, however, well done. This is not in reference to its level of accuracy, which is a debatable topic. Instead, I refer more to the utilization of the setting. Kabul was depicted to simply provide the basis to tell the story. Nothing was particularly overemphasized. Whatever point the movie had to deliver, it did so without resorting to unnecessary agenda fulfillment or pandering. Not that this is particularly difficult to do. Nevertheless, I have grown somewhat cynical about Hollywood’s version of that region of the world, as many audience members have done as well.
Kim’s character is very relatable, portraying the genuine struggles of a person to find his or herself. It is primarily a story about rediscovering your identity and pursuing the things that appear to be out of reach. The journey is unsettling for the most part but by the end, you do in fact settle. It’s a message that I think a lot of people would resonate with, as did I.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is an engaging story that takes you on a bumpy ride that opts to strengthen its wheels rather than leveling the road. We definitely recommend seeing it with a grade of 7.5/B.