Four years after the fall of Saigon, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now attempted to come to terms with the Vietnam War. Notice I did not say "make sense of," because Coppola's goal was to show that very little about Vietnam "made sense."
As the era of post-9/11 war (hopefully) winds down, we find ourselves again needing to come to terms with insanity. There have been some excellent documentaries about the Bush wars, such as 2007's No End in Sight, but the treatment of the Iraq war is limited to Clint Eastwood's militaristic hagiography American Sniper. Afghanistan was the forgotten war, as far as Hollywood is concerned.
Tina Fey is the first to tackle the absurdity of yet another empire trying and failing to impose its will on Afghanistan. In Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, she portrays Kim Baker, a war correspondent based on the real-life Kim Barker, whose book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan served as the jumping-off point for the script, penned by 30 Rock showrunner Robert Carlock. Fey's Baker is chosen to cover the Afghanistan war, and she leaves her cushy desk job in New York for Kabul.
It's undeniably fun to ride along with Fey as she dives into what the international press and military types call "The Kabubble." Whiskey Tango Foxtrot taught me that the Afghanistan war was covered primarily by people with constant, grinding hangovers. The capital is a whirlwind of Champagne-sipping consulate parties, internet porn, and hookahs full of hashish in the media room. The Westerner's desperate decadence is in sharp contrast to the lives of the locals.
Kim's confidence is constantly being tested as she gets a ground-level tour of different international flavors of sexism, from the Westerners' military bravado, to the lecherous Afghan government official played by Alfred Molina, to the conservative Muslim women who are the most fierce defenders of the religious patriarchy. Fey's assured strength at the center of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a double-edged sword, and the episodes where she bears witness to the war's surreal futility — including a take where a mostly silent Marine general (Billy Bob Thornton) digests the awkward answer to the mystery of why an American-dug village well keeps getting blown up — give way to a focus on her romanic misadventures with Iain and her struggle to advance her journalistic career while the war descends into a stalemate. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot feels like a missed opportunity to use humor to dig deeper into America's twisted relationship with militarism; the great statement about the legacy of Bush's bungled wars will have to wait for another day.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot