Good Morning, Vietnam

Movie Review #897


Limited release on December 23, 1987. Nationwide release on January 15, 1988. Comedy/Drama/War. This film is rated R. Runs 121 minutes. American production. Director: Barry Levinson. Written by: Mitch Markowitz. Cast: Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, Bruno Kirby, and J.T. Walsh.


By Alexander Diminiano

The one thing nobody’ll ever tell you about Adrian Cronauer is that he was hiding several ounces of crack cocaine under his desk during his time working for the AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and Television Services) in Vietnam, and smoking it whenever he was about to go on air. Granted, the reason you won’t hear this is because it’s not true. But judging from Robin Williams’s performance as Cronauer, there’s no way it isn’t true.

The majority of Williams’s radio broadcasts in “Good Morning, Vietnam” were fully improvised. He only delivers what he has to as far as actual news is concerned. Then he’ll crack a joke about the news of the world and before you know it, you’re being piled on with an avalanche of tangent after tangent of his ingenious comedy. So many characters, so many voices, and if he’s ever trying to make a point during his broadcast, God knows what in the world it could be. This is the story about a sophisticated man who comes to Vietnam not to serve in the armed forces, but to give the soldiers a wake up call more entertaining than they could have ever dreamed of, every single morning. His jokes come left and right and sometimes, they’re amusing double entendres or witty puns. But it’s more often than not Williams’s wild, crazed, off-the-wall character that makes him such a hoot. He’s just funny because, well, he’s funny.

There’s maybe two people in the world who don’t think so. The soldiers love him to death. So will you. It’s difficult not to find his performance entertaining. But there’s a second lieutenant and a sergeant major who don’t find him funny, and they want him off the air. The scary thing about this is, they can get him off the air. The sergeant does struggle: he complains to a soldier of higher rank who runs the station, but of course he happens to be complaining to a fan of Cronauer’s. But even if he can’t get Cronauer fired, the sergeant can take over for him. The question is, is he powerful enough to take over permanently.

“Good Morning, Vietnam” often seems like a ploy to get Robin Williams acting nuts. It certainly follows a progressive formula as it executes its plot. Williams is hired to go on the air for the army’s FM radio. He makes an absolutely hilarious, off-the-wall broadcast. The sergeant doesn’t like it and complains in an effort to boot him off the air. Repeat steps two and three many, many times. But the movie also has a heart. Williams doesn’t realize that it’s frowned upon to make friends with the Vietnamese, and when this comes to his attention, he does not understand the bigotry that American troops demand to feel toward the enemy. He’s made good friends with a Vietnamese student, after taking over as the teacher for his English class, in an attempt to woo his sister. But he does not realize that he’s made friends with the wrong man: a terrorist, who targets Americans in Vietnam, but has done Williams the favor of continually sparing his life. Though despite its pathos, I feel that the movie would have conveyed somewhat of a more palatable message if it didn’t ultimately prove that Williams was, despite his best intentions, making friends with the enemy.

“Good Morning, Vietnam” can be seen as the story of an American hero. It can be looked at as the story of an American man, and nothing more. It can be viewed as the tale of an American war veteran. While Cronauer does not fight in combat (and is, in fact, a pacifist more than anything else), he vividly experiences the horrors of war. The manner in which Barry Levinson depits this is a beautifully optimistic, and yet passionately deep, dark chiaroscuro about the Vietnam War. His soundtrack selections represent a zeitgeist of the time, for sure–and the fact that Williams portrays a radio DJ gives the film an excuse for one of the greatest soundtracks ever. The film really hits hard when it takes a moment to recognize the tragedies of the time in terms of these musical compositions. The employment of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” during a montage of hell on earth is too much for words.


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