Sunday, March 20, 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Review

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Review
You know what I love the most from a movie? An experience I did not expect to have.

There is a certain style to the marketing for "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot." It looks like it is going to be some kind of buddy-reporting movie between Tina Fey and Margot Robbie. It looks like its going to make you laugh. It looks like it is going to make you feel good. It buys into the norms of the Tina Fey filmography. Fey is trying to make hip, upbeat movies, movies that are going to make you laugh and make your lungs hurt from a lack of breath. Even as "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" begins, its opening suggests typical Fey fair. The film opens to the sound of "Jump Around" by House of Pain, and there is a huge party going on, a party we see Kim Barker (Fey) at. There is alcohol, there is drugs, there is some making-out. Its a rowdy, obnoxious party. Suddenly, we hear a massive boom, and somebody says that was a bomb. This party is between a press group on-site in Afghanistan in the early 2000's. The make their way to the site of the bombing, and when Barker accidentally bumps into an Afghan man, they exchange insults and Barker tells him in Arabic to "eat a fart."

I figured I knew what this movie was going to be about. A whimsical look at press reporting during the war in Afghanistan. I figured it was going to be a typical, upbeat Fey comedy, with some hard lessons thrown into the mix. Kim Barker goes out to Afghanistan to cover the war because she sees it as a new outlet, a way to further her career at her network, she will get airtime, reporting time, the whole bit. The catch is that she is in the most dangerous place in the world at the time. But it seems different from the day-to-day drag that she is used to, so she gives it try. It completely changes her outlook. She befriends fellow reporters Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) and Iain  MacKelpie (Martin Freeman). Tanya brings Kim under her wing and Kim learns how to be a great correspondent. She meets a Marine general (Billy Bob Thorton) an Afghan attorney general (Alfred Molina) and even befriends her Afghan "fixer" (someone who sets up stories for a foreign correspondent) Fahim (Christopher Abbott). Her life is defined by warzones, warlords, and nightly partying.

With the cast that is involved, this seems ripe for a great comedy, right? Well, there are several moments that are very funny, but the movie takes some shocking turns. This is a movie that has something to say about war, it has something to say about how we define ourselves, how we trust people and who we trust. It's a movie that deals in very human territory and I stunned by just how much of the movie was dramatic and little of it was actually funny. I wouldn't call "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" a dark comedy, because it really isn't a dark movie. It has its fair share of tense moments, of learning moments, we see how people develop and adjust to brand new surroundings, and just how crazy it is when you wake up one day in a wartorn country and define it as a normal routine. It is very much about the life of a overseas correspondent, and how authentic it feels was a major surprise.

It also shows just how much range Fey has as a performer. We always look to her as a funny person, but she proves that she is so much more than that. Whatever this movie throws at her, she takes head-on and it is masterful work. I would love to see Fey tackle more parts like this, because she really broke her usual mold today. At some points, I couldn't really believe that this was Fey we were seeing. Fey is somebody who could win some major awards sometime down the line if she keeps up with these types of roles. I know it sounds crazy, but its nothing but the truth. This is easily the best thing Fey has ever done so far in her career.

In fact, everybody does a stand-out job in this movie. I continue to love everything about Margot Robbie, and how her character changes over the course of the movie was an unexpected treat. Martin Freeman is also somebody I continue to be very fond of, as is Billy Bob Thorton, both of whom do splendid work here. I was particularly taken aback by how good Molina was in this movie, even though I can't stand it when Hollywood whitewashes roles. I also liked the friendship that develops between Kim and Fahim and the work by Christopher Abbot is quite good. I also wanted to single out Evan Jonigkeit, who plays a Marine who develops a fondness of Kim. He only has a few scenes in the movie, but those scenes are important, they help define Kim as a character. The interactions between Kim and Jonigkeit's Marine are some of the best material in the movie, and Jonigkeit needs to be in every movie being made starting tomorrow.

So yes, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" is a comedy, but a different kind of comedy. There is a very human edge to the movie  that hit me harder than I had expected. It has several great characters brought to life by several great actors. It also tells a human story that I think anybody can understand, even if you've never had to get news from a warzone overseas. "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" is full of surprises, much of which I enjoyed.

FINAL GRADE: B+

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