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Streamers
cast: Matthew Modine, Mitchell Litchenstein, Michael Wright, Guy Boyd, and David Alan Grier

director: Robert Altman

113 minutes (12) 1983
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by James A. Stewart
The early 1980s were boom-time for Vietnam films; there was Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Rambo (well, its ridiculous sequels), and the likes. During this period of celluloid introspection, America was asking itself some tough questions and thankfully these films tended not to present a romanticised notion of what was a bloody and brutal war; and for America, what should have been a major learning point. Streamers is a worthwhile addition to this genre of film.

The story majors on four young boys, not men, in their army barracks. They are awaiting the call to head overseas and into the Vietnamese jungles. Unlike some of its predecessors mentioned above, Streamers is set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, not actually at the frontline. This is borne out of the film's conversion from play to big screen no doubt. Director Robert Altman (Gosford Park, Short Cuts) does well to maintain the intensity of the threat of active combat with the complex character differentials.

The film is essential a character study of each of the four privates over a 'free' weekend in their barracks. These soldiers, thrown together in a senseless conflict on the other side of the world, need to learn to trust and accept each other. However, in a country where the gay community are still years from acceptance, the overt camp-ness of Richie (Mitchell Litchenstein) causes angst, and his story is just part of the wider debate around bigotry and censorship in 1960s' America. The US Army's head-in-the-sand attitude toward homosexuality is to fore and the characters' differing attitudes towards this makes for fascinating viewing.

There are no drill sergeants barking out impossible orders and bullying dumbstruck teenagers into submission. This is a film concerned with the psychological development of characters inadvertently linked together by extenuating circumstances and is delivered in a very serious way. Whilst the lack of action may deter some of the more bloodthirsty aficionados of the genre, this is a worthy entry into the now deceased Altman's canon and the wider Vietnam pantheon: and it is a film that does deliver a message, without too much hyperbole, for which Altman's early work can sometimes be accused of. Some may argue that the underlying story is about social issues in 1960s' America and not the war, which is true in many ways, however, Vietnam was a catalyst for much of this debate and to say that the war is not entirely relevant to the story is like suggesting it's bullets and not guns that kill people: they need each other.
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