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Dustin Putman

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot  (2016)
3 Stars
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.
Cast: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Christopher Abbott, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfred Molina, Nicholas Braun, Stephen Peacocke, Josh Charles, Sheila Vand, Evan Jonigkeit, Steeling K. Brown, Ava Del Cielo.
2016 – 112 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for pervasive language, some sexual content, drug use and violent war images).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, March 4, 2016.
Chicago Tribune reporter Kim Barker's 2011 memoir "The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan" is given the semi-fictionalized big-screen treatment with "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot," a shrewdly observed character piece accentuated by Tina Fey's (2015's "Sisters") likely career-best performance. In this retelling of the true story, Fey's character has been subtly renamed Kim Baker, and her position as a newspaper journalist has been reenvisioned as that of a cable news copywriter assigned to a three-month gig as an on-air war correspondent in Afghanistan. Kim's cramped, imperiled situation in a place far removed from her home and boyfriend (Josh Charles) in NYC makes her instantly think twice about agreeing to the job, but as she ingrains herself into this adrenalized different way of living and working, she finds such newfound purpose she barely notices when her embedded journalistic stay in Kabul stretches from months to years.

"Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" has been falsely advertised as Tina Fey's latest laugh-a-minute romp when, in actuality, it is a thoughtful, character-rich slice-of-life with brief bits of acerbic humor sprinkled sporadically through the script. Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (2015's "Focus") and writer Robert Carlock (Netflix's "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt") opt out of overtly politicizing the story, focusing instead on the reality of Kim's circumstances and her affectingly portrayed arc as a woman who finds reinvigorating meaning in her life. Supporting performances are strong across the board, from Margot Robbie's (2015's "Z for Zachariah") ambitious, "15-on-a-scale-of-10" reporter Tanya Vanderpoel, to Christopher Abbott's (2012's "Hello I Must Be Going") kind local interpreter and guide Fahim, to Martin Freeman's (2014's "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Four Armies") freelance journalist Iain MacKelpie, to Billy Bob Thornton's (2015's "Our Brand Is Crisis") tough but fair U.S. Marines General Hollanek.

Even if the breadth of Kim's work over a three-year period isn't fully explored—she carries around a camera through war zones on a few occasions and sits down for an interview with flirtatious Afghan attorney general Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina), but is rarely seen reporting for the news—her personal experiences and the relationships she makes are given a naturalistic attention to detail. "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" follows Kim every step of the way, rarely leaving her side, affording her and her journey a full-rounded complexity. She is not the same person at the end of the film that she is when it begins, and Tina Fey's exceptionally nuanced work in bringing this character to life gives its final half-hour—and, by extension, all that has gone before it—a particularly unforced poignancy.
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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