Title: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: ""Ladies and Gentlemen, I have been to Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and I can say without hyperbole that this is a million times worse than all of them put together."
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three Ernie Pyles out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Desk-bound newspaper reporter "embraces the suck" and becomes foreign correspondent in Afghanistan.
Tagline: "From the headlines to the front lines."
Better Tagline: "War is hell. Or hella fun with enough booze and drugs."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Chicago Tribune metro reporter Kim Barker (Tina Fey) is dissatisfied. Her days consist of writing stories about diet trends while she spends her evenings on a stationary bike (metaphor!). When the invasion of Iraq drains the newspaper's primary front line reporters, the call goes out to the remaining single/no-children staff to cover Operation Enduring Freedom. Barker volunteers, and spends the next three years reporting the conflict while, inevitably, becoming addicted to the adrenaline rush of covering combat.
"Critical" Analysis: One of the not insignificant problems our protagonist faces as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot unfolds is the larger one in which we Americans are all complicit: No one cares about Afghanistan anymore.
Once America's military mission shifted from smoking out the Taliban and Osama bin Laden to pursuing nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the writing was on the wall. We as the audience are privy to this from the outset, with Barker's opportunity only coming about as a result of the paper's corresponding shift in editorial priorities.
Barker deals with this in the latter stages of the operation, leading her and her fellow newsfolk (Margot Robbie's Tanya Vanderpoel and photog Ian MacKelpie, played by Martin Freeman) to go to increasingly dangerous lengths for stories. The fading of Afghanistan from public consciousness, however, looms large over the entire movie. And as with the best war comedies (M*A*S*H, Dr. Strangelove), the eventual futility of the military's efforts can't be denied.
Fey and company don't quite hit those heights. Scripted by SNL/30 Rock scribe Robert Carlock (working from the real-life Barker's memoir) and directed by the guys who did Crazy, Stupid, Love, the movie feels too episodic at times. Helping to hold everything together are the largely satisfying performances. Fey has come a long way as an actor, and Billy Bob Thornton — playing the colonel of the Marine company Barker is attached to — manages to be hilariously profane without his usual attendant sleaze. Everyone also conveys the hollowness of the endeavor without becoming too maudlin.
Josh Charles is reliably smarmy as well. If they ever do a Real Genius remake (blasphemer!), that guy is your new Dr. Hathaway.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (I refuse to abbreviate this to "WTF") is also, at heart, about Barker's quest to find herself. It's an admittedly common theme, and might be dismissed more easily if it weren't embedded (heh) in a female-centered black comedy set in a war zone. Fey and Carlock have done an admirable job navigating the testosterone-flooded world of war reportage (best represented by Freeman's uncharacteristically profane MacKelpie) while maintaining the strength of Barker's character.
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