In 1987, Robin Williams had one of his best screen roles in Barry Levinson's hit GOOD MORNING VIETNAM.
Williams plays DJ Adrian Cronauer, an irreverent and hilarious radio man dropped into the middle of the war in 1965. Shy and quiet off the air, Cronauer explodes on the airwaves, becoming a fast talking, never ending barrage of jokes and envelope pushing humor.
His style finds him immediately at odds with his two immediate superiors. Lt Hauk, perfectly played by Bruno Kirby (When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers) is a frustrated DJ and comedian himself, anxious to get Adrian off the air and go on himself. The only problem is he doesn't have any sense of humor. The scenes where he takes his own brand of comedy on the air are hilarious.
Above Hauk is the dangerously angry and by-the-book Sgt. Dickerson, played by veteran character actor JT Walsh (A Few Good Men, Backdraft). Walsh is terrific, frustrated at Cronauer's complete lack of commitment to the rule book.
Fresh off of "Platoon", Forest Whitaker is perfect as Cronauer's right hand man Garlick.
The film traces Cronauer as he immerses himself in the people of Vietnam, falling in love at a distance with a young woman and befriending her brother.
The film deftly balances comedy with serious anti-war messaging. A montage of a fire bombing of a local village set to Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" is disturbing and haunting in all the right ways.
WIlliams is terrific throughout, balancing his on-the-air antics with a quiet portrayal of a man frustrated with his position and the battle around him.
Levinson perfectly stages a scene in which Adrian has decided to quit, but finds himself in a traffic jam, surrounded by young soldiers that love his show. Watching Williams slowly burst out of his shell as Cronauer finds inspiration in these brave young men shows a great actor beneath the comedian. The scene is shot so well, it feels wholly improvised.
Williams was always very hit and miss for me. For every "The World According to Garp" or "Good Will Hunting" there are three "Patch Adams", but there's no denying that when a film gave him a layered character to play, he always delivered.
GOOD MORNING VIETNAM is one of his best and gets a B.