Picks and Pans Review: Streamers

updated 10/24/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/24/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Robert Altman, who directed some of the finest films of the last 15 years, including M*A*S*H and Nashville, recently has come perilously close to has-been status. He has not made a commercially or critically successful picture since 1977's 3 Women; anyone remember Health? All that makes Streamers seem the more overwhelming; in 118 minutes, Altman makes up for almost every lapse of the past six years. He modeled the film closely on David Rabe's 1976 play about four soldiers preparing to go to Vietnam. With less than $1 million, Altman limited himself to a single set, a stark basic-training barracks. But that limitation proves a virtue. Indeed, Altman enhances Rabe's psychodrama with superb camerawork, tight editing and stunning performances from his relatively unknown actors. After auditioning hundreds of men, Altman picked Mitchell (The Lords of Discipline) Lichtenstein as a homosexual recruit who is alternately vilified, kidded and propositioned by the other three: Michael (The Wanderers) Wright, Matthew (Private School) Modine and David Alan Grier, best known for his role as Jackie Robinson in Broadway's The First. They are all superb in grueling roles that encapsulate the traumatic effects Vietnam had on this country. (Two drunk sergeants, played by George Dzundza and Guy Boyd, provide comic relief.) The disturbing realism of the story and its violent conclusion will, however, keep this film from becoming as popular as M*A*S*H. As Altman said not too long ago, "That film was 1969. I'm telling the same war story now, but it just isn't funny anymore." (Rating R)

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