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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

About halfway through “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is a quiet and touching moment.  Afghan translator and general compation Fahim (played by white guy Chris Abbott, who may have the saddest eyes in the world,) sits down with journalist Kim Baker (Tina Fey.)  He talks to her, in his gentle and indirect way, about addiction.  About how the rush gets more and more elusive, and the addict must do more and more dangerous things to attain that feeling. It’s a one man intervention, and it’s a really fine scene. Fey blows him off, hard.

It was at that moment that I thought I understood what “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” wanted to be about.  Fey plays a mild-mannered journalist who decides to break out of her boring, routine life by going on assignment in Afghanistan. At first, everything is new, exciting, and confusing, and Fey gets some solid comedic mileage out of playing the fish out of water. But the newness and novelty wears off pretty quickly, and is replaced by an environment where nothing normal is normal. By this point in the film, Fey has covered a few stories, been on CNN (or whatever 24 hour newscycle channel she works for,) and is seeking the rush of seeing herself on television again.  But in order to for that to happen, she has to corral more and more dangerous stories.

She has to go after the dangerous stories because her viewers — that would be you and me, dear reader — have grown fatigued of the war in Afghanistan, and aren’t tuning in any more to watch stories about bombed wells and hospitals. It felt like an apt metaphor – this woman was going to nearly kill herself in desperate attempts to get us to care about this war we’ve all but stopped caring about.  Her motivation may not be that pure and true — really, she just wants to get back on TV — but that’s what it boils down to in the end.  It felt convicting and powerful.

And then… the movie drifts away from this point.  It decides it wants to be about a bunch of other things as well, like the way women are treated in strict Muslim countries, and the way women journalists are treated in a male-dominated corner of the profession.  Or about how journalists can easily move beyond observers and become players in wartime decision-making.  Or about how the whole profession is cutthroat, and the guy you’re sleeping with one day will steal the story you’ve been working on for months the next.

And that’s the real problem with “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” – it wants to be about too many things all at once, and ends up with such a diffuse focus that it doesn’t feel like it’s really about anything in particular.  And then, at the end, Tina Fey just decides she’s had enough, packs her bags, and heads back to the states, where she covers a Washington beat – meaning she’s covering much more trivial stories, but gets on TV much more often.  What are we supposed to take away from that?

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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