I enjoy wartime movies for the most part but there has also been a fair bit of weaker films of this type like Windtalkers and The Thin Red Line (I know I’m in the minority for that one) being the biggest examples. However, the idea of a comedy-drama with Tina Fey in the title role is very appealing because Fey has a sharp knack for playing out combinations of comic timing combined with stellar acting that always makes her characters come to life rather than just acting as cardboard cut-outs.
The story takes place in the early 2000s and follows a low-on-the-totem-pole journalist named Kim Baker (Fey) who receives the opportunity to change up her boring life by going to Afghanistan and covering the turmoil while most of the media has switched their coverage over to Iraq. While in the Middle East, Kim runs into a number of colourful characters including fellow journalist Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), womanizing Scottish reporter Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), the goofy Ambassador Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina) and the stern-but-fair General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton). Hijinx ensue but we also get a very serious portrayal of wartime in the Middle East through the eyes of a journalist who was there on the scene.
I learned from the ending credits that this film was produced by Broadway Video, which is the production company led by my God, Lorne Michaels. This doesn’t surprise me as he has led a lot of Tina Fey’s work after Saturday Night Live including Mean Girls and 30 Rock. This doesn’t follow the same exact comedic style or structure as some of her typical work but Fey still has that great sardonic and yet sincere delivery that works extremely well for a film like this. She has elements of Liz Lemon but just some of the awkwardness as Kim has more suave and intellect in certain situations than you would ever see Lemon use on 30 Rock. Some of the humour in the film does hearken back to 30 Rock and similar things to that as well like Alfred Molina’s performance for example. Here he plays an ambassador who gives up some information but ultimately just wants Fey to become his “special friend” so he can sleep with her. Fey’s priceless reactions to his fruitless attempts are quite funny to witness for sure.
The cast is rounded out by a lot of other strong supporting roles. Margot Robbie gets a good chunk of screentime as a fellow war journalist. She almost acts as an antithesis of Fey (at least of who Fey is at the beginning of the film). Robbie is fearless and knows the ins and outs of almost any situation, even telling Kim who she should and should not sleep with, who to take with her out into the field and having a ton of connections with local possible interview subjects. I am convinced that Martin Freeman can play any role with any accent and he proves it here again as the hilarious Scottish womanizing journalist, Iain. Freeman starts off as a bit of an unlikeable character but his progression towards becoming likeable feels natural and because the film has strong writing, it doesn’t feel like a plot necessity rather than a normal transition. Also notable is Billy Bob Thornton in a small role as a fairly stern general who eventually takes a liking to Kim. He is his usual gruff self that he can play so well but Billy Bob is another one of those actors that can evolve a character beyond just a flat representation. He pulls off another great performance again.
Don’t expect a lot of graphic war violence as this is mostly focused on the relationships, politics and fish-out-of-water story that inhabits the film. The movie is kept at a good pace but there is probably about 10-15 minutes that they could’ve trimmed just to make the movie a bit tighter. However, that is a minor complaint in an otherwise strong film and a really good showing from the cast and the folks over at Broadway Video. Check it out.
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)