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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Blu-ray Review)

24 Jun, 2016 By: John Latchem

Street 6/28/16
Box office $23.08 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for pervasive language, some sexual content, drug use and violent war images
Stars Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Christopher Abbott, Billy Bob Thornton.

From a promotional standpoint, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot would seem to have a bit of an identity crisis. Its trailers and marketing made it out to be the next irreverent Tina Fey comedy — a fish-out-of-water farce about a naïve journalist in the Middle East. To up the zany factor, the filmmakers even changed the title to military jargon for WTF instead of using the name of the book the movie’s based on — The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by Kim Barker.

The perception of the film’s comedic chops might have plagued the film’s relationship with its audience, who were probably expecting something different. I had let the film drift off my radar, so when I popped in the Blu-ray I didn’t really have any expectations. I found myself pleasantly surprised by the result.

Needless to say, most of the film’s jokes are pretty much in the trailer, and are clustered toward the beginning of the movie, when it the film has the most potential of evolving a MASH-esque zaniness.

Instead, one might be hard-pressed to even call this a comedy, especially when the plot involves a kidnapped journalist. But it’s the situation itself fueling the insanity. The film is very funny when it needs to be, and while the tone at times drifts toward a bleakness appropriate for the subject matter, I was often reminded of the tone of Up in the Air, itself a comedy dealing with some meaty themes.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot isn’t as sharp as that movie, but its war-footing makes it a bit more harrowing, and the cultural dichotomy is eye-opening (and also a good source of humor). Whiskey Tango Foxtrot manages to turn itself into an effective glimpse at war journalism fueled by terrific performances.

Fey plays Kim Baker, the war correspondent based on the book’s author, who is sent to cover Afghanistan for a cable news network in 2003 when the attention and top personnel shifts to covering the new war in Iraq. Kim quickly finds herself adjusting to a new life in an intolerant culture, unwinding in a dorm with other Western journos to take the edge off — an activity typified by large amounts of booze and shagging, and usually in that order.

Her friends during her off hours include the randy Tanya (Margot Robbie), whose first question to Kim is if she can sleep with Kim’s hunky security escort; and Iain (Martin Freeman), an obnoxious Scottish photographer who takes a liking to Kim. The camaraderie is tempered, however, by the competition for stories, as Kim learns to navigate the politics of foreign correspondence in dealing with both rival news agencies and attention from her own network to get the resources she needs.

Fey effortlessly conveys the dramatic gravitas required for the role, which is unglamorous by design but not out of bounds for what one might expect a Tina Fey character to be, even when given a bit of an edge. She never pushes the lighter side of things out of reach, but never gives into the pathos that threatens her sanity, either.

Featurettes on the Blu-ray include the 14-minute “All In: The Making of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” a general glimpse behind the scenes and how the landscape of New Mexico was transformed into Afghanistan; “War Reporter: The Real Kim,” a five-minute profile of the real Kim Barker, who is interviewed on the movie’s set; “Embedded in Reality,” six-and-a-half minutes about dealing with the military; “Wedding Party,” a five-and-a-half minute look at how the film explores Afghan culture; and “Laughing Matters,” four-and-a-half minutes about the film’s satirical elements.

The Blu-ray also includes four amusing deleted scenes running five minutes, and an extended version of the wedding scene with some funny additional dialogue.

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