Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
dir Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
scr Robert Carlock
prd Lorne Michaels, Tina Fey, Ian Bryce
with Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Christopher Abbott, Alfred Molina, Billy Bob Thornton, Stephen Peacocke, Nicholas Braun, Sheila Vand, Evan Jonigkeit, Josh Charles, Cherry Jones
release US 4.Mar.16, UK 13.May.16
16/US Universal 1h52
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
This means war: Robbie and Fey

freeman molina thornton
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Based on Kim Barker's memoir The Taliban Shuffle, this is an energetic, eye-opening depiction of a journalist's experience in a messy military conflict. The script combines snappy dialog with blackly hilarious situations, all underpinned with a serious sense of what was happening as coalition forces tried to control Afghanistan.

In 2003, New York desk-based journalist Kim (Fey) is offered the chance to go on-camera covering the war in Kabul. On arrival, she's assigned local fixer Fahim (Abbott), security meathead Nic (Peacocke) and cameraman Tall Brian (Braun). It takes her awhile to make sense of the frenetic life of a front-line journalist, covering risky situations during the day and partying every night like there's no tomorrow. Colleagues Tanya (Robbie) and Iain (Freeman) offer camaraderie and more. Local politician Sadiq (Molina) takes a shine to her. And American General Hollanek (Thornton) begrudgingly starts to respect her.

Fey is terrific at maintaining a comical sensibility right through the film's darkly dramatic and pulsingly suspenseful sequences. The key theme here is addiction, as these war correspondents need the endorphins released when they're in the line of fire. So it's no wonder that their parties are raucous and debauched (frankly, the film probably tones them down). Or that Kim's three-month stint turns into three years. Both the personal interaction and the intense war-time action are played with impressive authenticity.

Kim is a terrific central character, likeable and intrepid, reacting to the insanity with sardonic wit. Fey's scenes with Robbie bristle with all kinds of energy, while Kim's growing attraction to Freeman's Iain is played with a clever mix of lust and emotion. Even more involving is her connection with Abbott's Fahim, an intriguing character with his own story happening largely off-camera. His wedding offers a moment of brightly colourful local culture that stands in stark contrast to another sequence in which Kim wears a burkha to infiltrate a Taliban enclave.

Filmmakers Ficarra and Requa are experts at juggling a wide range of tones at the same time, and this story's wildly disparate elements must have posed a significant challenge. But they balance it perfectly, finding sharp points in even the silliest scenes. It's also impossible to understate the importance of a movie that refuses to take a simplistic approach to such a murky war. Like MASH, this may be set at a specific time and place, but it says more about the world than we'd like to admit.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, drugs 5.May.16

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