So if you saw any of the trailers for Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, you probably thought it was going to be a terrible rom-com set during the War in Afghanistan (which, yeah, that would be awful). And while this movie does have a little Eat, Pray, Love vibe to it since its main character, Kim Baker (played by Tina Fey), is a white, middle-aged woman looking for more adventure in her life—career and relationship-wise—Whiskey Tango Foxtrot leans more toward Zero Dark Thirty or The Hurt Locker.
Based on the true story of foreign correspondent Kim Barker, whose memoir, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the foundation for this movie’s story, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is more about the drama behind the lives of journalists in foreign countries.
What reporters experience while following troops on assignments, the social microcosm they create while in a foreign country (which they hilariously refer to as the “Kabubble” in this movie since they’re in Kabul), the way they get addicted to capturing shocking footage to further promote their careers—these are the stories we don’t hear about among the news of bombings and troops getting attacked. And it’s fascinating.
Let’s talk about the “Kabubble” thing because I think this is the most interesting part. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is like crack for anyone who enjoys sociology because it’s all about the social dynamics within a microcosm. And this particular microcosm is a bunch of English-speaking white reporters (who are mostly male) hanging out in a country with huge cultural differences from their own and a language that most of them don’t speak. How does that affect the relationships between the characters?
Kim Baker and Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), for example, are the only women reporters, so they naturally gravitate toward one another. But would they ever run in the same social circles back home? As Tanya says, Kim is a “6 or 7,” but in Afghanistan, she’s a “9 borderline 10.” And, hi, Margot Robbie, so we know where Tanya stands. Their friendship in Afghanistan is necessary for social survivor. It’s like when the popular girl in high school has lunch at a time when the other popular girls don’t, so she sits with people she’d normally make fun of. But even though they’re both women stuck together in a foreign land, they’re still journalists on competitive networks, so there’s also a professional rivalry between them.
There’s also gender politics in the bubble, which we’re shown with juxtaposing male characters. Afghanistan’s Attorney General Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina) initially ignores Baker because she’s a woman, directing all of his questions to her male security guard during their interview; however, when she displays confidence, he sees her “mouthiness” as sexually desirable and from then on tries to coerce her into having sex. On the other hand, General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton), the Marine Corps leader whose troops Baker follows, initially worries Baker will distract his men (Enter another comment about the environment-relative hotness scale), but as their professional interaction goes on, he realizes she’s just there to do a job, and he treats her with respect.
And yes, there are love interests because, as I said earlier, there’s a slight Eat, Pray, Love vibe. Baker and journalist Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman) repeatedly hook up after Baker catches her long-term boyfriend cheating. MacKelpie, of course, is a symbol of the “exotic escape.” But the better relationship is the one between Baker and her Afghan security detail, Fahim (Christopher Abbott). Their non-sexual companionship provides the most compelling moments in the movie, including a hand-touching scene where their feelings for one another are expressed without a single word. It’s gorgeous (and might qualify as a “sexless sex scene”).
The only issue I have with this movie is that the filmmakers cast Christopher Abbott (American of Italian-Portuguese descent) and Alfred Molina (Brit of Italian-Spanish descent) to play Afghan characters. Here’s a crazy idea. HIRE ACTUAL AFGHAN ACTORS. This is yet another case of whitewashing, and it’s not cool.
(Also, if you haven’t yet figured out why they called the movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, please read the first letter of each of the words in the title. There you go, sport.)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: B-
You can listen to my review of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 35:33).