Saturday, 17 November 2012

Vietnam Week 5: Radio

Out in the world of films there are more than a few war films. Perhaps this is because, as a species, we have so many wars. Whatever the reason is, it seems that we can never get tired of one war. The war that, if you weren't there, you can never imagine. Described by more than one solider as a hell on Earth and claimed 58,282 U.S. Solider's lives. The war in Vietnam. If you've been watching the films I've been reviewing this week, there is a high possibility you have heard a radio playing in the background of the action. If so, you have probably heard the title of today's film: Good Morning, Vietnam.

Based on a real DJ for the US Armed Services Radio station in Vietnam, Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams), Good Morning, Vietnam tells the story of Cronauer and his 'outrageous' acts on the air. Adored by the troops out in the field but hated by his commanding officers, Cronauer balances on a fine line that is controlled by his constantly being censored and being threatened by the higher commands, Lt. Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and Sgt. Major Dickerson (J.T. Walsh). However, no matter what, he always has Edward Garlick (Forest Whitaker) looking out for him, even in his endeavours to find love with a young Vietnamese girl and befriending a young boy called Tuan (Tung Thanh Tran). His commitment to constantly keep the troops laughing is harder than any mission in the actual field as he can't read the stories he wants to, play the music he wants to, or, most importantly, tell the jokes he wants to. Staying out of trouble is not easy.

Even a successful comedian bombs...
But not the same way as the troops.

For his performance, Robin Williams was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the 1988 Oscars, eventually losing out To Michael Douglas in Wall Street. Williams, commonly thought of as a less serious actor, being nominated for an Oscar. Did he deserve it? Yes, completely. What Good Morning, Vietnam does so well is it is a solid base for Williams to ramble on with his style of comedy - most of his broadcasts are completely improvised - but it also provides small, yet crucial, moments for some real heart felt acting. The contrast between the light hearted, incredible, improvised speeches and the times when Cronauer is genuinely distraught or upset is a juxtaposition that only the finest of actors can pull off with such clarity and conviction. There is not a bad piece of acting in the entire film; all the supporting cast are absolutely fantastic. The characters are all so distinctive in their personalities that the audience immediately know who to like and dislike without needing an extra half an hour for character development. Truly superb.

Williams misunderstood when people
said his mouth was too big for the mic.

What this film does that many other Vietnam films don't do is it looks far more heavily at the serving members of the military forces that have a comfy seat. While it does still emphasise the fact that there is no front line in Vietnam and anyone could be attacked, it shows that there was another side to the war that was not all grit and death. The Vietnam film with the most heart by a long shot. Not only does it introduce a love story underneath the main plot, but it also introduces the idea of true friendship and betrayal, not just comradery. It has a soundtrack full of old favourites and classic tunes to present the idea that we are like the troops, listening to whatever Cronauer decides he will play.

A perfectly simple plot that combines comedy and heart like very few films do. Not only was it funny and touching, it was also extremely enjoyable. Perhaps it is the lack of constant death, or the high spirits of the radio troops, but there's something far more pleasurable to watch in Good Morning, Vietnam than other war films. 

Best Bit? Cronauer's touching and heartfelt speech towards Taun towards the end of the film. Anger, respect, guilt, desperation, upset... All these emotions and more come out in one scene. Super. 

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