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Stuck in a rut, reporter Kim Baker (Tina Fey) decides to shake things up by leaving her desk job in new York and taking a dangerous assignment in Afghanistan. Far from home and completely out of her comfort zone, a culture-shocked Kim befriends an adventurous reporter (Margot Robbie), a no-nonsense Colonel (Billy Bob Thornton) and a charming photojournalist (Martin Freeman) to help her navigate this crazy new world. (From the Paramount synopsis)

 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Directing duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who brought us two pretty good con man movies with I Love You Phillip Morris and Focus, have brought an adaptation of Kim Baker's "The Taliban Shuffle" to movie form with mixed results. If there is one thing I like about these filmmakers, it is that they make refreshingly adult comedies that find a good spot between sanitized PG-13 studio comedy and R-rated raunchfests. This time they are trying to extract both heart and humor from a wartime reporter's experiences in Afghanistan. I'll admit, the idea of mining comedy from an American lady's trip to a war-torn middle east makes me roll my eyes a bit. After all, this is a movie where Alfred Molina is cast as an Afghan attorney general. But a lot of the humor is culturally sensitive and appropriate, so despite some questionable casting it did not prove to be a big issue. The bigger problem for me is the tone, which is as scattershot as the laughs. Still, I discovered some surprising and redeeming qualities along the way.

What Ficarra and Requa wanted to capture in this story is the chaotic lifestyle of journalists in that part of the globe; specifically the ones that spend their days dealing with the heavy violence of the region and then spend their nights partying into oblivion. I never expected a portrayal of people getting addicted to the rush of the lifestyle. Sure, something like The Hurt Locker does a better job of covering that dangerous rush, but it was a surprising conflict to find in what I thought would be a plain "fish out of water" comedy. There's also some small but welcome exploration of how the war in Afghanistan has been completely overshadowed by the war in Iran.

 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
With the crazy swings from war coverage to nighttime partying comes crazy swings of tone in the storytelling. It shouldn't shock you to hear that a war comedy has some very dramatic scenes in it too. It's a difficult tonal balancing act, and I'm struggling to think of another movie that does a great job of it outside of Three Kings. Unfortunately Whiskey Tango Foxtrot doesn't quite pull it off. It often seems the filmmakers weren't even sure what tone they wanted. I was reminded of the scene in Good Morning Vietnam when "What a Wonderful World" plays in juxtaposition to violent war footage. In Whiskey Tango Foxtrot we get some marines raiding a compound while Harry Nilsson's "Without You" plays, and I have no idea why, or what is trying to be conveyed by it. The raid isn't particular harsh or violent, and the content of the song offers no warped interpretation. It just seems like someone liked the song and thought it'd be an interesting choice. A movie should not make me dislike a Harry Nilsson song. The same goes for an Alfred Molina performance. It isn't right.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot also feels a lot longer than it should. Part of the problem is an excess of unnecessary, dramatic plot twists with Kim's own coworkers. The story already had decent enough conflict before everyone started lying and making decisions behind each other's backs, and it adds nothing to the plot but tedium. One of these plot developments is a relationship Kim forms with a photojournalist Iain (Martin Freeman) that feels half-baked and is completely void of chemistry. Margot Robbie who stole scene after scene from Will Smith in Focus), is mostly wasted here. She plays a fellow female reporter named Tanya. I was disappointed when her first interaction with Kim, which seemed like the launchpad for good buddy comedy material, devolved into Tanya asking Kim if she can sleep with her security guards. The later scenes with them are a big improvement though. Kim's scenes with her driver, Fahim (Christopher Abbott), are some of the better dramatic scenes in the movie. Abbott is quite good in this, but it's hard to shake the disappointment that Kim's closest, grounded connection to the Afghan people is played by someone of a different ethnicity. Tina Fey herself is one of the main reasons to watch this movie. If you're a fan of Fey's work on 30 Rock or any of her comedy really, this is probably worth a viewing cause she is as good as ever. Kim Baker is no far cry from Liz Lemon, but I haven't grown tired of her playing these characters yet.

 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Video


This 1080p transfer from Paramount is mostly very solid. It's show on the Arri Alexa so detail is very strong, especially in the many dry outdoor scenes. There's a fine digital noise over a lot of the indoor material. Outdoor scenes have a bit of a warm push to them. When there is color in the outdoor scenes it really pops, like Kim's shirt. The Afghan wedding scene has a different, yellow-tinged appearance and very saturated colors to help some of those colorful outfits stand out. Unfortunately the visual style of the movie doesn't get to show off a lot of these things. We spend the majority of the wedding on close ups of people talking, then everyone is dancing and we still just get medium shots or close ups that don't take advantage of the atmosphere. Black levels occasionally look crushing, but having only seen it on Blu-ray I can't confirm if this was already how the film looked. Even if I wasn't impressed the movie's visuals, this Blu-ray transfer has very few issues on a technical level.

Audio


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is the first Blu-ray I've personally encountered with a DTS:X audio track, which is the DTS equivalent of Dolby's 7.1.4 Atmos tracks. I do not have a receiver or the speaker setup to take full advantage of this, and from what I can tell the track was just interpreted as a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. As you can imagine for a war zone reporting movie, there is ample opportunity for an active sound mix. Even without the extra four speakers on the ceiling I was impressed with how consistently active and dynamic the whole mix felt. If the story isn't reminding you that the characters are in a war torn area, the audio is. There's muffled, distant explosions and gunfire throughout and it goes a long way to bulid atmosphere. There's also a lot of partying that get's appropriately boisterous. Gun fire has the loud punch that it should when the action is happening close to Kim. Throughout this chaos the dialogue, even when yelling over a hailstorm of bullets, was easy to make out.

 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Extras


The list of extras begins with All In: The Making of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (HD, 14:12) is your standard making of featurette that covers the plot and has producers, directors and cast giving interviews about what they set out to do. It's got a real EPK vibe to it, very rapidly cut together, but has some interesting stuff. Next is War Reporter: The Real Kim (HD, 05:15), which is a quick look at author Kim Barker, the person who Tina Fey's character is based on.

Embedded in Reality (HD, 06:23) is more of the same EPK-like featurette material from the making of, but with more of a focus on working with real marines and consultants. Wedding Party (HD, 05:31) is another featurette focusing on the wedding scene and the culture behind it. This has some repeat material from previous featurettes. Laughing Matters (HD, 04:24) goes into some detail about the crazy, party-like atmosphere some war journalists exist in and why things are that way. After the featurettes we have four Deleted Scenes (HD 05:14) which can be viewed separately or all at once. Lastly is one Extended Scene (HD, 04:59), which is a longer version of the wedding scene but without much post production work done on it.

 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Overall


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot swings from drama to comedy and back again, but can't pull off the balancing act. I was surprised by how thematically nuanced it tried to be, but Ficarra and Requa's efforts are marred by unnecessary subplots and workplace drama that doesn't teach us anything about the region or provide laughs. This role is not a stretch for Tina Fey, but if you are a dedicated fan and like the characters she plays then you may still find it worth your time. This Blu-ray from Paramount has good video and an impressive audio mix. Extras are mostly fluff.

 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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