WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT. US, 2016. Starring Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Christopher Abbott, Billy Bob Thornton, Nicholas Braun, Stephen Peacocke, Sheila Vand, Josh Lucas, Cherry Jones. Directed by Glenn Ficcara and John Requa. 112 minutes. Rated MA (Strong coarse language and brief injury detail).
The opening sequences of this film are pretty raucous, overseas reporters letting their hair down with alcohol and dancing at a club in Kabul, 2006. And then there are explosions, the journalist suddenly becoming sober, getting their phones, trying to make communications and file reports. The tone is captured by the title and its code, WTF… The film then goes back to New York City in 2003.
This film is based on a book by journalist Kim Baker, at the centre of this story, initially a reporter on domestic issues for a US television network, dissatisfied with her life as she finds that the treadmill at the gym keeps moving back, something like her life, so when volunteers are requested for Afghanistan, she signs up. She is in a relationship and assures her boyfriend that she will be back in three months. She stays in Afghanistan for three years.
Actually, the film gets more interesting as it goes along. as we share Kim’s experience, the shock of arriving in Kabul, the headdress requirements in this Muslim country, the crowded streets and busyness, hard accommodation, drinking bouts with the other journalists and consequent hangovers, the film help us helping us to learn what it is like to be a foreign correspondent, and the pressures.
The surprising thing is that Kim Baker is played by Tina Fey, best known for her comic performances, impersonations. While there are some traces of this, it is much more of a serious rule for her. Australian Margot Robbie appears as another successful foreign correspondent as does Martin Freeman, a Scot, who is attracted to Kim.
Out she goes to be embedded with the troops, finding that she gets more and more of a high as she experiences the dangers, even running out to photograph during gunfire, experiencing some disapproval from the Marine General, Billy Bob Thornton, but able to help him with information about the exploding of wells in a village, the women themselves doing it to get some socialising opportunities by going to the well and defying the men. He interviews a local politician, Alfred Molina, who blends politics with sleaziness and can be blackmailed for information by showing him footage of his drinking and dancing outside a club.
The seriousness of Afghanistan and its cultural traditions is embodied in one of the security guards appointed for Kim, Fahim, Christopher Abbott. Previously a doctor, he now has to accompany her, guiding Kim through some responsibilities, warning her, diagnosing her addiction for highs in action. He is engaged and there is a colourful sequence showing the wedding.
The American public is very interested in Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but interest wanes and the network is not putting many of Kim’s reports to air. On a return visit, she challenges the new boss, Cherry Jones, and is determined back in Kabus to get a scoop to reinforce her status and reputation. She does get an opportunity when Martin Freeman is abducted and she is able to help negotiate his release.
By the end of the film, we have experienced the three year journey of Kim Baker, her discovery of Afghanistan and the complexities of the power plays and of the dangers, her insights into the culture and religion of the country, her greater self-realisation – and this also has an effect on the audience, an entertainment, but, in fact, a strong learning experience.
Paramount. Released May 12th
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.