Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Kim Baker has a lot to learn.
This fortysomething television news writer has spent her entire cubicle-bound career in New York City. But in 2003 she said yes to an assignment altogether different: covering the war in Afghanistan.
Kim's steep learning curve includes making sure she uses the bathroom before climbing into a Humvee headed into the harsh Afghan hinterlands. And making sure she doesn't sit with her feet together in that armored vehicle—so she won't lose both of them if the vehicle hits an IED. And making very sure that she never gets out of a cab in Kabul without covering her head first.
There are plenty more lessons like those in dusty and dangerous Kabul, the kind of place only desperate, demented or adrenaline-addicted reporters choose to remain in very long. Or, in Kim's case, slightly confused reporters going through a midlife crisis, looking for meaning and purpose.
As for the reporters who do stick it out? Well, their coping mechanisms are as extreme as the environment, as Kim finds out when right out of the gate, blonde bombshell reporter Tanya Vanderpoel asks if she can shack up with Kim's hunky security guard, Nic. And when these thrill-seeking writers and TV folk aren't rolling around in bed, they're sucking down liquor and sucking in all manner of drug-laced smoke from hookahs in a decadent, nonstop soiree.
It's not all hedonistic partying, of course. There is reporting to be done, after all. And with the help of General Hollanek (with whose troops Kim travels) and a faithful "fixer" named Fahim (a local who acts as an interpreter and cultural buffer), Kim tracks down some pretty compelling war stories to tell the folks back home. And some of those stories—such as reporting on a bombing of a girls' school in Kandahar—do scratch Kim's itch for meaning in her life.
Plenty of characters exhibit decency in big ways and small. The Marines treat Kim and the Afghan nationals they work among with dignity and respect, faithfully soldiering on amid a complex, dangerous mission with murky, mostly unachievable goals. Fahim conscientiously tries to do his job and keep headstrong Kim out of trouble. And when she begins taking increasingly dangerous risks, Fahim dutifully tells her that she's becoming inured to Afghanistan's violence and that she's acting like a junkie in search of a bigger high. For the sake of his new bride, then, Fahim finally tells Kim he can no longer submit himself to her recklessness.
At least Kim doesn't capitulate immediately or completely to the debauched, frat-house-like atmosphere that pervades the reporters' culturally isolated compound. She initially remains faithful to her boyfriend back home (until she learns he's cheated on her), and she refuses to use sex as a tool to get information from Afghan officials. Though her relationship with freelance Scottish photographer Iain MacKelpie begins with a lustful tryst, she grows to care for him and tenaciously tries to help save him when he's kidnapped. Kim ultimately concludes that the risky, abusive lifestyle of reporters in Afghanistan isn't healthy and isn't what she wants to embrace long-term.
"I just have to get out of here before it's too late," she tells Iain.
"What do you mean?" he asks.
"It's starting to feel like this is normal," Kim replies. "You know it's not, right?"
We're shown examples of taking responsibility for your own actions, confessing when you've done wrong and properly acknowledging reality when you're not responsible.
There are many verbal and visual references to Islam. At the conclusion of Ramadan, we see Muslims with their sacrificial sheep. Conversations revolve around the Taliban's implementation of strict Islamic Sharia law. Someone refers to the blue burqas women wear as "the blue prison." The hypocrisy of some outwardly strict Muslims with regard to sex, drugs and alcohol is implied. Muslims chant "Allahu Akbar." Etcetera.
Kim goes on a personal crusade, protesting how the most stringent practitioners of Islam violently resist allowing women to be educated.
The movie goes quite far out of its way to tell us that Afghanistan is a place where anything goes for Westerners. We see several sexual propositions and hear lots of talk about sex. All sorts of couples are repeatedly seen groping and cuddling around the compound. Kim is alternately deemed a great "piece of a--" and a "whore."
Kim resists an Afghan official who's plainly willing to trade information for sex. And she even pushes away Iain's innuendo-laden advances at first. But when she's confronted by her boyfriend's cheating (she briefly sees a naked woman in the background while Skyping with him), she throws herself at Iain. (We watch them kiss, clutch, tear at each other's clothes and head to bed together; Kim is covered only with a sheet afterward.)
We see someone's bare backside pressed against a window. Women do body shots off of a man's torso. A guy takes a picture of Kim's (clothed) backside when she bends over. Verbal and gesturing references are made to condoms, brothels, bestiality porn (which we also see a suggestive glimpse of), various sex acts, genitalia and pubic hair. The general on the ground compares the war in Afghanistan to a violent form of bestiality. Kim repeatedly looks out her small apartment's window to see dogs copulating in the courtyard below.
Kim films an ambush where Marines get caught in a firefight and use a Javelin antitank missile to obliterate rebels taking shelter behind a truck. A drone takes people out (on both sides of the fight). We see a burning, disfigured corpse, as well as many bleeding and wounded soldiers in a hospital ward. A Marine raid includes lots of lethal gunfire.
A man punches someone, breaking the guy's nose and bloodying it. A doctor talks of drug-addicted fathers who break their children's bones as an excuse to take them to the emergency room—where they steal morphine and painkillers.
Crude or Profane Language
Harsh language rains down on viewers even more often than AK-47 rounds in this film that even hides an obscene acronym in plain sight in its title. We hear more than 75 f-words, about 30 s-words and two or three c-words. More anatomical slang includes "d--k," "p---y," "c--k" and "balls." Also included in the dialogue are the words "h---," "a--," "a--hole" and "b--ch." There are 15 or so misuses of Jesus' name and 15 more of God's name (including five pairings with "d--n").
Drug and Alcohol Content
Kim first consents to Iain's advances while very drunk. And her state of intoxication is a common one here. She and her friends repeatedly get smashed out of their minds, with Kim passing out in one scene and vomiting the morning after in another. People snort lines of drugs. They draw on drug-laced hookahs. They smoke cigarettes.
Fahim tells Kim that 90% of the narcotic opiates in the world derive from Afghanistan's infamous poppy fields, a reality that truly saddens him.
Other Negative Elements
With their backs to her, Marines surround Kim to shield her as we watch her "go to the bathroom" in the desert. (Her bare backside is obscured by a shrub.)
Tanya betrays her friendship with Kim by seeking to scoop a story and steal Kim's TV gig.
In keeping with the obscene exclamation of incredulity barely disguised in its title, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is truly an odd film.
There's no central conflict here, per se, other than the obvious one: the war in Afghanistan. And though there is a linear narrative of sorts (loosely based on real-life reporter Kim Barker's 2011 memoir The Taliban Shuffle), mostly the story meanders from one strange and dangerous situation to another as the onscreen Kim Baker lurches through myriad reckless, immoral decisions en route to the epiphany that being a war reporter in Afghanistan isn't ultimately very healthy.
Remember what she told Iain? "I just have to get out of her before it's too late."
I felt exactly the same way while watching Kim's vulgar, hedonistic tale that never quite meanders all the way to the meaning she's so desperately looking for but can't quite seem to find.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Tina Fey as Kim Baker; Margot Robbie as Tanya Vanderpoel; Martin Freeman as Iain MacKelpie; Alfred Molina as Ali Massoud Sadiq; Christopher Abbott as Fahim Ahmadzai; Billy Bob Thornton as General Hollanek; Nicholas Braun as Tall Brian; Stephen Peacocke as Nic; Sheila Vand as Shakira Khar; Evan Jonigkeit as Specialist Coughlin
March 4, 2016
June 28, 2016