I am not exactly sure how I missed Whiskey Tango Foxtrot the first time around. Actually if truth be told, I didn’t. I remember hearing an interview with Tina Fey who stars in it, but it was a film set against the backdrop of war and if there is one thing guaranteed to turn me away other than a dog dying in a film, it is the promise of bombs and military paraphernalia.
The two exceptions to this, that I can think of, are the movies MASH and Good Morning Vietnam, but that is because they are not really about war, they are about characters caught up in a situation which robs them of any control and who navigate the ensuing pitfalls.They are also both very funny.
I approached the movie with a little suspicion, and it took me a little while to get into it, despite the rousing bars of,’Jump Around’ which open the film as the foreign press corps, who are squeezed into their quarters in Afghanistan, drink and dance off their considerable nervous energy while the bombs fall around them and cause a power cut. Our heroine, Kim Barker (Fey) steps outside and trades a few lively ethnic insults with one of the locals, then the narrative itself jumps back to three years earlier as we learn how she ended up in Kabul reporting war for American network TV.
This was one of the things I liked about this movie, it knew how to use a few simple ingredients to tell a whole load of backstory very efficiently and carried on in the same manner for the running time. While last week’s film used both voice over and montage and heaped loads of unwanted detail into the frame, WTF was able in a few minutes to tell us all we needed to know about our main character, and it did not stop there.
We follow Kim’s story from her decision to leave her desk job thought the following three years back to the opening scene of the film and a little beyond and witness the relationships that mark her time. Yes, there are bullets that fly occasionally but the point of the story is to watch as she arrives in this alien environment, struggles to make her mark and almost imperceptibly becomes acclimatised, with all the inherent risks attached. War reporting – and in particular, chasing the next big story at whatever cost – is a dangerous and addictive business and in the bubble of war, there is no normal against which to measure your decisions.
There is also plenty of humour in the film and at its centre the quietest relationship of all: the one she shares with the local man who has been hired as her guide and interpreter.
Fey is great in the leading role, with strong performances from all cast members: Margot Robbie, Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman and in particular for me, Alfred Molina. I really enjoyed it the first time and even more when I went back again for a second viewing the next day – even if that damned Jump Around track was stuck in my head for days after.