Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

Director: Barry Levinson Cast: Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, Bruno Kirby, Tung Thanh Tran, Robert Wuhl, Chintara Sukapatana

Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer is shipped into Vietnam to take over a slot on the Armed Forces Radio. He quickly starts to make his mark, however, while popular with the regular troops, it doesn’t go down well with his superiors.

Although I love Vietnam War classics like Apocalypse Now, generally speaking it’s a genre that is pretty hard-going (understandably). Good Morning, Vietnam however makes for much lighter viewing while still making its point. From the outset, I was laughing out loud: the first scene in which Robin Williams’ character appears on the radio is brilliant, and it’s joke after joke with barely pausing for breath. Robin Williams is ideal for the role, as he perfectly fits the character of weird and totally in his own world without caring what other people think. A lot of it is also pretty politically incorrect, which is certainly refreshing in this day and age. The 60s pop soundtrack is also great, and I like the way it forms part of the story as it’s used as a contrast against the boring approved radio station music.

The film is really funny and I laughed a lot, but it also has its serious parts. The plot surrounding the radio station is that the news is massively filtered and censored so that the troops don’t hear about anything bad going on- particularly with relation to the likelihood of the war dragging on, which in hindsight we know it most definitely did- and Cronauer struggles with not being allowed to tell the truth. There’s a very sad scene where he’s driving about the town and they meet a bunch of soldiers about to head out to where the war is properly taking place, and while Cronauer is entertaining them there’s a look on his face that he knows they’re probably not coming back.

The one downside, and it’s not a major downside, is the plot with Cronauer and his Vietnamese friends. I just found it unconvincing, and the climax of the storyline revolves around this (without wanting to give away any spoilers) but it’s not particularly hard-hitting simply because I was unconvinced by it. Reading that back it doesn’t make much sense, but probably will if you watch it! Overall though I did enjoy the way it portrayed the tragedy and ridiculousness of the war and a lot of parts were very moving.

This is a great film and is light enough but while still having a strong message. It’s probably not suitable for kids (a fair amount of strong language and violence) but as far as war movies go it’s not bad at all, so I think a lot of people would enjoy it.

4 stars

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Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Full Metal Jacket

Director: Stanley Kubrick Cast: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Ermey, Dorian Harwood, Arliss Howard, Kevyn Major Howard, Ed O’Ross

A group of young recruits scrape through a tough bootcamp before heading off to Vietnam to join the war. Stanley Kubrick adds his take on a brutal and traumatic war that has left its scar on the American national consciousness.

I find this period of history fascinating (the Cold War), and I loved Apocalypse Now. Plus I can’t recommend enough the last Kubrick film I watched, Dr Strangelove. However, Full Metal Jacket didn’t really grab me. The film kind of feels like it’s actually two different films stuck together: we start off following the new recruits at a training camp on American soil, which I thought was simply setting the scene- until we were an hour into the film and still there. Then they get shipped out to Vietnam and it becomes a film about the war. The two parts are obviously linked, but it feels like the film can’t really decide if it’s about the traumatic training process or the traumatic war (either way, traumatic is the key theme here).

Don’t get me wrong, both halves of the film are enjoyable (probably not the right word) to watch and Kubrick clearly makes his points about the military lifestyle and the pointlessness of the Vietnam War. However, while the training camp part has a storyline that progresses, the war half doesn’t really have much of a plot; stuff just kind of happens. Maybe that’s a point that Kubrick is trying to make- I just found that the film was a bit random from a viewer’s perspective.

The film is violent and distressing so certainly not for family viewing. As I say, I find this period of history interesting, and it is certainly a must-see for those who have enjoyed war films in the past and know that they enjoy the genre. However I tend to find that war movies don’t prove particularly popular with those who don’t have an active interest in the historical aspect in question, so it won’t be a winner for everyone. If you haven’t enjoyed war films particularly in the past, I probably wouldn’t recommend this one in order to change your mind.

3 stars

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Apocalypse Now

Director: Francis Ford Coppola Cast: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne aged 12, Robert Duvall

During the Vietnam war, an army captain is sent on a mission to kill a previously well-respected colonel who has lost the plot and formed a cult in the Cambodian jungle.

If I could describe this film in one word, it would be trippy. I watched this film a good few years ago now, but on a small, poor quality screen, and I don’t think it was quite able appreciate the claustrophobic and stressful nature of the film. The soundtrack is very very weird, which is key in emphasising the almost surreal nature of the chaotic Vietnam war. It actually won an Oscar for Sound, which I think it 100% deserved as the sound is so key to the emotions that the audience is supposed to feel. Much of the film takes place in the dark or at night, which adds to the claustrophobia as you can’t really tell what’s going on. Additionally, rarely do you get a wide landscape shot but rather the film is mostly close-ups, which again means you can’t get a full picture of the environment, and it just all feels very constricted and almost anxiety-inducing (its other Oscar was for Cinematography). Clearly, these are not emotions that you’d usually be comfortable with, but the film really does capture that side of what really was a significantly traumatic conflict.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that this film is boring, too long, and doesn’t really make a lot of sense. While I would agree that it is hard to make sense of much of what is going on in the physical environment, this is kind of the point (see above) and in reality the plot is actually very straight-forward. It is long, but I personally didn’t find this an issue and I can’t think of any particular part that isn’t relevant or is pointless.

This is probably one of the better war films I’ve seen, as it’s not simply a narrative of events but rather an attempt at getting across the realities of the Vietnam war (which I found it did very successfully). Not family viewing for sure, but it’s a good film and I would watch it again.

4 stars