You let Robin Williams loose, to improvise, ad-lib and spontaneously perform, with little or no direction, and you can be guaranteed comedy gold. It’s to Good Morning Vietnam’s testament that this is what Robin Williams gets to do in key parts of the movie, the best parts of the movie.
The film is centered around an army DJ who ruffles feathers when his style clashes with the Vietnam military radio station’s usual conventions. This is most apparent on his first ever radio show, when Robin Williams’ character, Adrien Cronauer, is let loose, opening with the now famous title of the movie and then running with it, doing impressions, news reels and other chaotic monologues.
The radio sequences are the best parts of the movie because they are Robin Williams at his chaotic but hilarious best. Although some of the quotes rely on cultural references, Nixon being a huge one, there are also jokes that hit everytime and showcase his talent as an improv-performer.
The rest of the film is as good as these comedy monologues though. There are some great comedy moments with Williams bouncing off his very strong supporting cast. An early role for Forest Whittaker pits him against the mad-cap DJ and he holds his own in some quite obviously ad-libbed scenes. Giving Williams’ character some authority figures to rebel against also helps the comedic flow and he manages to send-up and humiliate both Bruno Kirby’s L.T Hauk and J.T Walsh’s Major Dickerson.
It is a war movie though and the film never strays too far from the conflict. Alongside the comedy are some major dramatic moments which Williams and the film itself handles very well. Censorship, terrorism and the absurdity of war are all handled but as background elements, rather than thrown in your face. To see a character full of life and then slowly destroyed by war is enough to demonstrate the anti-war message – something Williams also conveys brilliantly too.
It’s easy to overlook the dramatic talents of the actor, but Williams’ manages to hold very intense scenes, involving bombings, confrontations with the enemy and realisation that he is in a war which is horrible and in some people’s view, quite pointless.
One montage of clips demonstrates this effectively, accompanied by the Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” It’s subtle, effective and also marks the stark contrast between the music and the mayhem. The soundtrack, with a film about a radio DJ, is key and is used brilliantly. It frames the moments perfectly and marks the stark difference between Williams’ DJ and his superiors.
The movie does begin to lose its way slightly towards the end, with William’s radio show featuring less and the horrors of war featuring more. After being spoilt with pure Williams’ magic for most of the film, the more dower aspects of the movie begin to jar and detract. It’s a small complaint though and doesn’t hugely deteriorate from a pure classic and a great war movie.
Overall, Good Morning Vietnam is a showcase for Robin Williams’ comedy talents. He gets to let go, let loose and demonstrate his unique, chaotic style that made him a star. It’s also a movie that pulls no punches with its anti-war message, something that begins to drag towards the end of the movie. It’s a minor complaint for a classic movie though.
Rating – 4.5
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