Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a thoroughly entertaining film”

by Steve Pulaski

While I was watching Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, the latest film by the directing team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love, Focus), I began not only to further realize why I wasn’t a fan of two similar films released in the past couple months, but also discern what exactly I was demanding from them. The films in question are the Coen Brothers’ latest film Hail, Ceasar!, released last month and David Gordon Green’s Our Brand is Crisis, released back in November of 2015.

Both films were noble efforts, but almost entirely misguided and rudimentary; despite limitless possibilities, both films felt confined to limited ideas. Hail, Caesar! was a parade of presumably expensive actors for basically cameo scenes and a whole lot of nothing going on and Our Brand is Crisis was a juvenile display of a serious story that significantly undermined the talent of Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton (also in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot). Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, however, corrects a lot of the missteps those films made, as well as showing both films what they could’ve been had more care and attention been brought forth in the writing department. Here’s a film, like the aforementioned two, featuring a slew of great actors, but delightfully merging comedy and drama to create consistent humor, affable character chemistry, and some considerably commendable pathos during the final act.

The film revolves around Kim Baker (Tina Fey), a simple scriptwriter for Television news, who gets the opportunity to prove herself when she takes a job as a war correspondent in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2003 during America’s “Operation Enduring Freedom” mission. Planning to only stay three months, which turns into calling her base in Kubal “home” for several years, Kim develops a friendship with coworker/war journalist Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), in addition to Marine Corps General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton), who leads the band of men Kim is following and interviewing.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Directed by
Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman
Release Date
4 March 2016
Steve’s Grade: B+

Screenwriter Robert Carlock (who wrote 30 Rock, also starring Fey) always seems to have a fairly loose grip on the film and its events, allowing the characters to essentially meander within their surroundings and create their own subplots. This feels very much like a “character-created” film, in a sense that there’s a beautiful, natural presence to the events in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot that feels like it was created from the film’s characters rather than a slew of overworked people behind the scenes.

This sort of casual, believable environment makes the film that much more entertaining and believable, yet much of that is attributable to the wonderful Tina Fey. Once again, Fey proves herself as one of the funniest and most charming actresses of our time. Her conversational humor and simultaneous, almost perplexing, blend of self-deprecating humor and confidence show just how fearless of a comic presence she is. Also showing solid comedic timing is Margot Robbie, and when these two get in the same frame – which doesn’t happen as often as I would’ve liked, unfortunately – they are a comedic dream-team, working off of one another in ways that you don’t see too much, particularly from two female performers. Their chemistry, despite working for the same station, isn’t competitive nor argumentative; it’s simple, refreshingly so.

When Whiskey Tango Foxtrot becomes more dramatic in the third act, it works to remind you that war isn’t fun and games, despite this film making it all seem pretty lax and almost carefree. By the end, the real politics show their side, almost as if Carlock, Ficarra, and Requa are making the statement that war is inherently political, and while we can joke about it and propose our alleged “blindness” to racial and class politics, it’ll always be there, waiting for us to address it. The politics, as one can expect, largely come in the form of what the news stations actually want us to see from the frontlines, sort of like Nightcrawler but not nearly as intense. In a strange way, it almost works to be the antithesis of Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, a film that was just about as apolitical as you could get for a film about a seriously political event.

However, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a thoroughly entertaining film; one that sneaks up on you with its smart writing and bears performances and direction that you grow to respect throughout the film. It plays almost like Our Brand is Crisis might have had David Gordon Green actually written it and not just directed it. The only nudging thought in mind as the credits rolled was what the phrase “whiskey tango foxtrot” actually meant. A quick search on Urban Dictionary explained it’s a largely meaningless term to substitute a vulgar expression. I’ll advise you to do what my stupid self should’ve noticed by now; look at the first letter of each of the phrases words.