Susan Granger’s review of “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” (Paramount Pictures)
Although I majored in journalism in college, intending to be a war correspondent, I was out of the country when Tina Fey’s dramedy opened, which is why I’m getting to it a bit late.
This is a fictionalized version of former Chicago Tribune reporter Kim Barker’s 2011 memoir, “The Taliban Shuffle,” chronicling her stint in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2004 to 2009.
As portrayed by Tina Fey, Barker is a New York broadcast journalist who’s dispatched to Kabul because she’s single and ready to shake up her humdrum life. Upon her arrival, toting a bright orange backpack, she’s immediately upbraided by chauvinistic Gen. Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton), who’s none too thrilled about her being embedded with his Marines.
Barker’s befriended by her shy Afghan translator, Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbot), whom she – all too often – endangers by taking thoughtless risks.
Adapted by Robert Carlock (Fey’s longtime writing partner) and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (the team that made “Focus” & “Crazy, Stupid, Love”), it takes a jab at the longest American military campaign in our nation’s history by pointing out that – at least in one case – our “help” is actually detrimental to the well-being of the women in a local village.
That’s something Barker discovers only when she’s beckoned by a group of its burka-clad residents.
Hard-partying Margot Robbie plays Barker’s frenemy, Tanya Vanderpoel, while Martin Freeman is Iain MacKelpie, the Scottish photographer who winds up in Barker’s bed, much to the chagrin of Alfred Molina as Ali Massoud Sadiq, a high-ranking government official who’s determined to seduce her.
But, as this character study evolves, it’s Tina’s triumph from beginning to end, proving that this tart-talking comedienne is equally adept at revealing her vulnerability in a drama, particularly when she realizes that she’s become addicted to danger – evoking memories of “The Hurt Locker” (2008).
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is an insightful 7. As for the military slang title, refer to what its initials spell.