How Barry Levinson Shows the Life of American Society

Barry Levinson, I've known him well as the director of “Rain Man” Who is not familiar with that powerful emotional drama, with Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in the cast? Levinson is a brilliant narrator, and his masterpieces seek to observe and reveal the hidden aspects of life. He has covered themes of racism, human inequality, love and war, justice, politics, and intertwined with all of it, the stories of ordinary people. Thus, harassment in a juvenile detention center discloses the hard truth that the authorities reject. And revenge killing can be just a matter of protection. Accepting cosmopolitan society – perhaps the beginning of raising a new, egalitarian generation. These are not the least of what Barry Levinson wishes for us to understand.

Inasmuch as it is 2020, it’s not hard to become engrossed with the topics that were of critical importance in the middle of the last century. Now part of history, but so risky to bring up many years ago. Barry Levinson appears not only as a Oscar-winning movie maker, but the great viewer and philosopher. All of his plots contain wise phrases, idiomatic episodes, and truths about life, especially if the setting happens to be war or imprisonment. Cast and crew are also phenomenal.

We take a look at two brilliant stories. They are different, but impressive. So, on with it!


“Good Morning, Vietnam”

The movie is set in the Vietnam War, when a position on the Armed Forces radio station is assigned to a DJ called Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams), who is known by his jokes and laughter about politics. However, at that time, the radio is censored, and most of the news reports distort reality. Recruits are coming  to Vietnam without any knowledge or understanding. As many are young, unaware, and ambitious, they fall into line, following commands.  The official radio station works the same way. News is chosen and corrected, and music is particularly ordered. Its purpose is to attract the troops’ attention and keep up the soldiers’ morale.




What does it mean for a Vietnamese girl to be in a relationship with an American man?

It is not accepted by the local Asian society, although it is convenient for the Americans in Vietnam. All Vietnamese women are assumed to be indecent. In a small way this can be miserable, in a large way the girl probably ends up with a bad name.

From the movie Good morning Vietnam
Robin Williams and Chintara Sukapatana in the movie Good Morning, Vietnam

Against the military background, the story is about the inner changes that take place in Adrian Cronauer. Initially, he comes on the scene as sarcastic and bold, the creator of sharp jokes, suddenly  addicted to Vietnamese women. Ignoring all the rules, he makes a profound impression on his listeners. Once he sees a beautiful, charming Asian girl, he falls in love and tries to catch her attention through various approaches.

For instance, as we know this place is like a small American village, the locals must learn English. So, Adrian takes advantage of the opportunity and becomes a random teacher in the girl’s English class. Building warm connections with her relatives, particularly with her brother, Cronauer gets not only extra points for being liked, but also he finds a good friend and lifesaver. Thus, before the bar he frequents is blown up, Adrian is warned by the girl’s brother and escape 3 minutes before it blows.

This changes him in a profound way, and Adrian announces the truth in news reports about the terrorist attack at the bar. The Americans are willing to falsify on the radio the details that Adrian plans to show as evidence. As many things are forbidden to be told, the news embarrasses the authorities. Finally, Adrian quits his radio job, and all of his life seems a failure.


How his bravery affects his colleagues

In the beginning, when Adrian meets his girlfriend’s brother. They meet in an American bar, generating hostility among the other soldiers. Adrian tries to protect the Asian boy and cool the atmosphere with humour. But his provocative jokes add fuel to the fire. A few days after the fight in the bar, the bar is blown up. The most significant thing is that an Asian boy, a member of a local gang, has been implicated in several incidents before and now raises the issue of revenge. Consequently, Adrian reveals the information about the incident in the bar on the radio. Others at the station try to stop the lying and allow him go forward.

From the movie Sleepers
Jason Patric Lorenzo and Vittorio Gassman in the movie Sleepers

The incident triggers widespread rethinking and a wish to stop false reporting, and a few people are fined. In the end, Adrian changes and becomes a better man. He becomes kinder and more genuine and shows how grateful he is to the Asian boy and to all his colleagues at the radio station. He is deported home because of his secret connection with the Asian mafia. But his inner transformation brings him to genuine human feelings and positive relationships, even with the people on the other side.

From a technical point of view, Barry Levinson successfully captures the colourful landscapes of Vietnam. The local fields of rice together with the atmosphere of the American occupation. Also, there is a stunning effect from the old style music from artists such as Louis Armstrong, Wayne Fontana, and the Searchers. The final effect comes from the team and the casting, with actors including Forest Whitaker in the Edward Garlick role, J.T. Walsh, Noble Willingham, Tom. T. Tran, and Alex North as composer.



A meaningful, philosophical drama with many sharp turns in the plot, which was nominated for an Oscar award in 1997.  Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver, and Kevin Bacon appear alongside Brad Pitt.  The film is based on a story written by Lorenzo Carcaterra and is a kind of biopic with the same main hero.




When friendship runs deeper than blood

In New-York there is a dangerous urban neighborhood, known locally as “Hell’s kitchen”, located on Manhattan. Not a safe place, with its own set of street rules and a large presence of gangsters. Our heroes, five teenagers, are all friends: Michael Sullivan (Brad Pitt), Lorenzo ‘Shakes’ Carcaterra (Jason Patric), John Riley (Ron Eldard), Tommy (Billy Crudup), and Carol (Minnie Driver), who is the only girl in the group. They spend time together as ordinary young people, going to school, playing games, and hanging out.

They also go to the local church, where Father Bobby (played by Robert De Niro, quite young and charismatic…) is serving. One day they trick a hot-dog street vendor and steal his cart, and then the prank turns into trouble.  In the end, a man loses his life, and the boys become prisoners in a juvenile detention facility.  While imprisoned, they are harassed by the guards: Ralph Ferguson (Terry Kinney), Nokes (Kevin Bacon), and one other.  The guards are sadistic, there is a sexual assault, and the boys can never get over it, sleeping with the lights on even after they are released and return to their homes.

“Sleepers” is the term for people like these. After many years, the boys become adults and take jobs: Shake became a writer for the newspaper, Michael becomes a prosecutor, Tommy and John become associated with the Mafia. In the summer of 1981, when they are 28, Tommy and John notice a man who looks like Nokes, dining in a restaurant.  It is time for revenge. The boys kill Nokes and become imprisoned for it. So Michael and Shake create a “sleepers” operation to defend their friends, but a legal one.  However, not absolutely legal. Father Bobby is forced to lie, breaking the rules of the church in order to help his friends.


Significant points in the plot

Thoughtful phrases. “When friendship runs deeper than blood”. The opening quote describes the powerful connection between friends, who are struggling together at a particular time in their lives.

Another episode, when Father Bobby comes to visit the boys in detention, he tells them in a supportive way: “Don’t be pretend to be stronger than you are. This will only destroy you and make you heartless”.

How often we try to seem independent and tough, with unbending principles. It breaks us more frequently than it helps us, in moments of great change, when we are not self -confident.

Breaking rules and standard social frameworks. At least for Father Bobby, who prefers to spend time playing basketball with the boys and at the same time comes up with educational talks.

Moments of hidden sympathy in the episode when John loses a basketball game to a girl with disabilities, the sister of another player on the However, it is not a real loss, but an honorable gesture to let her have the taste winning.

In general, we can observe that boys from a neighborhood like this one are treated well enough. They are even-tempered, clever, and hardworking. The plot triggers rethinking, and some words of justice. It also teaches us to be aware that a silly joke can be followed by deadly consequences.


Read more reviews from the author.

Photos: MovieStillsDB
Title photo: Shutterstock – Kathy Hutchins

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