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Good Morning Vietnam Review

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In a move to boost troop moral during the Vietnam War, Chicago DJ Adrian Cronauer is sent over to conquer the airwaves. He does, but not without causing a few shockwaves - especially when he starts taking in the madness going around him.

★★★★

When airman-turned-DJ Adrian Cronauer first arrived in Saigon in 1965, the military bigwigs must have thought they had a prize lunatic in their midst. Before Cronauer, the boys in the field had been subjected to a daily radio diet of Mantovani, educational programmes and public health warnings. With his very first broadcast, Cronauer ripped up the rule book and blasted out a heady mix of the Beach Boys, James Brown and zany patter between the discs. Not surprisingly, he soon became a popular hero while getting further up the noses of the top brass with each show.

In Good Morning Vietnam, Barry Levinson's exaggerated account of the DJ's antics, Robin Williams is Cronauer and finally gets the perfect vehicle to express his furious comic talent. For the various memorable studio scenes, Williams simply made it up as he went along with Levinson picking out the very best for his final cut. The end result of this inspired improvisation is a sense of genuine excitement every time Williams takes the mike to poke fun at the military authorities, Richard Nixon and the next person who comes into mind.

His first broadcast after arriving in from Crete is blistering stuff as he cranks the dials up to full volume and then greets the bewildered troops with what would soon become his famous trademark. "Goooooooood Morn-ing Viet-naaaaam!" roars Williams, "this is not a test, this is rock and roll, time to rock it from the Delta to the DMZ!!". The whole country appears to instantly lock into his groove, all bar his immediate superiors who stare aghast at their transistors.

It's only when Williams leaves the studio and tries to go native through his teaching lessons and his romantic interest with one of his pupils that Good Morning Vietnam goes off the rails. The dialogue is just as sharp but the friendship between Williams and a teenage member of the Cong is clumsily sketched and ends in an awkward confrontation which seems to be trying to tell us that not all American soldiers were kind-hearted DJs and that all wars would end if only we could all get together and play baseball.

This last half-hour aside, Good Morning Vietnam triumphs because of Williams, ably backed up by Forest Whitaker showing the economical acting skills he would later bring to Bird. Studded with memorable one-liners ("you are in more dire need of a blow-job than any white man in history") and punctuated with great 60s music.

One of Levinson's best films, and one of Hollywood's best films on the whole Vietnam subject.