Monday, July 26, 2010
Over the weekend I was lucky enough to find one of my favorite films on TV. Good Morning Vietnam is a great balance between entertainment and thought provoking inspiration. It also includes some great actors like Forrest Whitaker as the bumbling but loyal assistant, J.T. Walsh as the uptight ultra conservative commander, and whether you love or hate Robin Williams, you must admit this is the perfect role for him.
I won't rehash the plot because I'm confident that most of you have probably seen or at least heard of this movie but I will point out why this is a great example of good storytelling:
1) Conflict. The conflict in this film is mostly not the life and death kind. It's not even the dismemberment kind. Adrian Cronauer is an Airmen (this was before the armed forces had a full fledged Air Force) who is transferred to Vietnam to be a radio DJ and entertain the GIs who are fighting the war. The main plot line is the conflict between him and his commanders about what can be said and played on the radio. It's fun, funny and makes for some great comedy moments.
Then there are some points of conflict that act as various subplots. Cronauer is an English teacher for some local South Vietnamese in his spare time and he befriends a young man (who also happens to be the brother of the love interest) who actually turns out to be a member of the Viet-Cong.
There is also the bombing at Cronauer's favorite watering hole Jimmy Wahs and the fact that he is not allowed to report it on the radio because it is "unofficial news".
2) Characters. Cronauer was actually a real person and he probably wasn't quite as entertaining in real life but the character in the film is an easy one to root for as he stands up for the little guy and bucks authority while just trying to do his job.
There are also some great villains in the story. Lt. Steven Hauk is Cronauer's immediate supervisor and he is just begging to be made fun of. He tries to befriend Adrian a little at first but is so inept at running a radio station that he falls apart. Sgt. Major Dickerson (played by J.T. Walsh) is a much more uptight commander and really has it in for Adrian. He tries to shut down his program over and over. Then there is Tuan, Cronauer's student in English and his young friend. Tuan is technically a villain because he is a terrorist and is partly responsible for the bombing at Jimmy Wahs but he is also one of the most perfectly flawed characters ever and he is easy to sympathize with because he is so HUMAN.
I could go on forever with more examples of how this movie rocked at storytelling, even though this tale would not work well as a book, in my opinion, but I'm trying to keep my posts shorter so instead I'll leave you with some great quotes from the film:
Dickerson: This is not military issue, airman. What sort of uniform is that?
Adrian Cronauer: Cretan camouflage sir. If you want to blend in with a bunch of drunken Greeks there's nothing better.
Dickerson: That is humor. I recognize that. I also recognize your brand of soldier.
[imitating Walter Cronkite] Adrian Cronauer: I just want to begin by saying to Roosevelt E. Roosevelt, what it is, what it shall be, what it was. The weather out there today is hot and shitty with continued hot and shitty in the afternoon. Tomorrow a chance of continued crappy with a pissy weather front coming down from the north. Basically, it's hotter than a snake's ass in a wagon rut.
[Lt. Steven Hauk uses Army jargon to refer to a press conference to be given by former Vice-President Nixon] Adrian Cronauer: Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the V.P. is such a V.I.P., shouldn't we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? 'Cause if it leaks to the V.C. he could end up M.I.A., and then we'd all be put out in K.P.
Adrian Cronauer: Thank you. I think this fall, the discerning GI is gonna be wearing green in the jungle. Why? Because it matches with the green! The leaves, they fall upon the helmets, says yes to me.
Sgt. Major Dickerson: [Pointing to his rank insignia] What does three up and three down mean to you, airman?
Adrian Cronauer: End of an inning?
Adrian Cronauer: If I don't get to my English class, there'll be a lot of people speaking in short choppy sentences.
Adrian Cronauer: James! Nice, shiny green suit. You look like an Oriental leprechaun.
There are several more good ones, of course, but this post has gone on long enough. What did you do this weekend?