The film is set over the course of two nights in a US army barracks, where a group of young soldiers wait for their imminent dispatch to Vietnam as "replacements".

On the first night, we join the barracks as black Roger (David Alan Grier, A SOLDIER'S STORY) and camp Ritchie (Mitchell Lichtenstein, THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE) enjoy a spot of light-hearted banter, exploiting the fact that both are from very different backgrounds. Outside their camp, young black teenager Carlyle (Michael Wright, POINT BLANK) bounces about nervously, looking for his "friend".

Billy (Matthew Modine, FULL METAL JACKET) arrives back to the barracks a few moments later, a tad merry, but quickly sobered up by the sight of Ritchie helping their pal Martin (Albert Macklin, OFFICE KILLER) to his bed. Martin has slashed his wrists in a drunken attempt to get out of being shipped off to 'Nam - Ritchie has rather clumsily bandaged him back together.

Ritchie ignores Billy's suggestions that Martin should be sent to the infirmary, and instead comes on jokingly to Billy. Billy doesn't know whether to believe that Ritchie is actually homosexual, so humours him with more light-hearted banter.

Meanwhile, Carlyle enters the camp and spies Roger near the group's lockers. The two chat amiably before the wide-eyed Carlyle leaves for the night, telling Roger to keep in touch. Roger then admits to his friends that he doesn't know Carlyle, other than to say "hello" to. All he knows is that Carlyle is new on the grounds, and is ever so slightly messed up �

As the evening carries on and Roger, Billy and Ritchie settle into their bunk beds to talk into the night, some friction arises between Billy and Ritchie when the latter refuses to drop his flirtatious gay "act".

Overseen by the blind drunk Rooney (Guy Boyd, BODY DOUBLE) and Cokes (George Dzundza, BASIC INSTINCT), the young cadets spend their second night continuing to get to know each other and attempting to break through racial and homophobic barriers to become allies.

But with the closed-quarters claustrophobia, the threat of imminent war looming, the free-flowing booze and the psychotic Carlyle making a second appearance - events are destined to turn tragic before the weekend is over �

Robert Altman was undeniably one of America's best film directors. His canon includes such diverse and necessary works as NASHVILLE, M.A.S.H., IMAGES, GOSFORD PARK and SHORT CUTS. With STREAMERS, he did what most other big American directors also had a go at during the 1980's, and made a film about Vietnam.

Or rather, he took the war as a metaphorical setting, and actually made a film about male relationships and the anxieties that come to the surface when the protagonists do not have places to hide behind.

So what we get is a film that, although on the surface looks like a "war film", is actually devoid of gunfire and battlefield set-pieces. Indeed, the entire film takes place inside the barracks. It's a dialogue-heavy affair, relying on the tensions that rise from the in-your-face conversations enjoyed largely between Billy, Roger and Ritchie. The situation becomes more intense late in to proceedings, with the arrival of a broken bottle and a knife �

Such fare relies heavily on good writing and solid performances. Luckily, STREAMERS boasts both. The film is based on the play by David Rabe (CASUALTIES OF WAR) and adapted for the screen by Rabe himself. The cast are uniformly excellent, so much so that six of them (Modine, Grier, Wright, Lichtenstein, Boyd and Dzundza) won Golden Lion Awards for Best Acting at the 1983 Venice Film Festival.

If there is fault with anyone, then arguably it is Altman. His cinematic style is very much to sit back and let the acting and script do their own work. As they're in capable hands, this works well for the most part. But with such limited location and a screenplay already based on a play, it's hard not to find this visually boring and a little sluggish at time. It is, for all it's worth, a little too stagy. And - a flaw that must be shared between Rabe and Altman - it's a little heavy-handed at times in its study of racial and/or sexual tensions.

Still, it's a worthy film purely for the performances of the (mostly) young cast. Modine has never been better, as can be seen in the first half of Stanley Kubrick's FULL METAL JACKET, where he again plays a soldier in barracks waiting to be shipped to Vietnam. In STREAMERS he is more conflicted, more complicated, more genuine.

Thematically, it's hard to knock a film that strives to explore issues of racial and sexual differences between men forced to consider dying for each other. But it simply doesn't feel as timely as it was back in 1983 - the year of the film's release - when US soldiers were expressly forbidden to discuss matter such as homosexuality.

This is the first time, to my knowledge, that Altman's film has been released on UK DVD. Shame then, especially following his death less than 18 months ago, that it's such a bare-bones affair.

The uncut film itself looks pretty decent in a relatively bright, grain-free 1.78:1 transfer. The image is 16x9 enhanced and is reasonably sharp throughout.

The English 2.0 audio is a consistent, problem-free mix. Optional English Hard-of-Hearing subtitles are at hand for those who require them.

An animated main menu gives way to static sub-menus, including a scene-selection menu allowing access to the main feature via 12 chapters.

The only film-related extra is the original theatrical trailer, which I vividly remember from the old VHS days - the one with the soldiers in silhouette, tossing their rifles around. Again, it doesn't really give audiences the impression that what they're actually getting is the equivalent of a Tennessee Williams play set to the backdrop of an (unseen) war in Vietnam.

The disc also opens with a selection of trailers for war-related films: ASSEMBLY, DAYS OF GLORY, OVERLORD and SAINTS AND SOLDIERS.

Not the best effort for the film's UK DVD debut, then. But a good film that benefits from its intelligent script and marvellous performances.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Metrodome Distribution
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review