A small group of IRA members take an English soldier captive and attempt to trade him for one of their own who is being held hostage elsewhere. During his captivity, the soldier, named Jody (Forest Whitaker) befriends one of his captors, a man named Fergus (Stephen Rea), and makes him promise that, should Jody not survive his ordeal, then Fergus must track down Jody’s partner, Dil, and tell her Jody was thinking of her when he died. Whilst the hostage negotiations don’t turn out necessarily as anyone expected, Fergus still finds himself tracking Dil down, but he didn’t expect to fall for her himself. Continue reading →
Barry Levinson can’t work out whether he’s Oliver Stone or Jerry Zucker in this Vietnam-based Robin Williams vehicle. Heavy handed politics and imagery of riots, fire and explosions doesn’t tend to gel with zany antics and improv riffing from one of the world’s leading fast-talking funnymen, but fortunately Williams is on fine enough form to just about rescue the material from an uneven mess, as his radio DJ Adrian Cronauer is brought in to perk up the on-air talent of 1965 Saigon. The troops love him, but his superiors, including the late, great Bruno Kirby’s put upon aggressive peon Lt. Steve, are less keen on his refusal to play approved material and pre-programmed songs, opting for rock and roll over Perry Como. Some storylines seem forced and contrived – Cronauer repeatedly infiltrating an English class just to meet a girl, her entire family accompanying them on a date – and you get the feeling that this is only loosely based on a true story.
Where it shines though is the comedy. Though some of the references are now very dated and probably worked a lot better back in the States (Ethel Merman, Walter Cronkite, Mr. Ed), Williams knack for voices and repartee with a crowd is unparalleled, though a young Forest Whittaker as station lackey Edward Garlick gets his share of decent lines too: “A man does not refer to Pat Boone as a beautiful genius if things are alright.”
The film tries too hard to make a political statement where none is wanted, and the failed attempts at poignancy leave a bad taste in the mouth. Had the serious side been toned down – difficult, I know, given that it’s about war – and the directionless plot been reined in a little this could have been a classic.
Charlie Sheen is Chris Taylor who, after dropping out of college because he wasn’t learning anything, volunteers to fight in the Vietnam war, amongst recruits including Keith David, Forest Whittaker, Tony Todd, Kevin Dillon and a young Johnny Depp. The platoon is split, with half drawn to Willem Dafoe’s free-thinking, laidback stoner Sergeant Elias, with the rest, including brown-nosing Sergeant O’Neill (John C. McGinley), prefer the ethos of scarred Staff Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), who counts success by how high the bodies are piled, rather than whether peace has been achieved.
There’s an interesting film buried in here somewhere, but it either follows Sheen’s naive, error-realising private or the conflicts between the two sergeants and their unrespected, inexperienced Lieutenant (Desperate Housewives’ Mark Moses). Some gripping moments stand out – a night ambush, and the colour slowly fading back in after a white-out napalm drop – but the rest is underwhelming and littered with trite or cheesy dialogue and 5-cent philosophising: “We did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves, and the enemy was within us.”