Something’s going wrong there The biggest beer run of all time. Writer/Director Peter Farrelly (with which the screenplay was written brian curry and peter jones) ends up missing the mark, and then some when it comes to finding a good emotional vein for his high-profile true story involving John “Chickie” Donahue (Zac Efron) tries to bring some beer to his buddies in the trenches of Vietnam to cheer them up. The film’s tone is all over the map, and none of the shifts between madcap comedy and brutal war drama fits. Visually, everything looks incredibly flat, especially a weird-looking throwback to some New Year’s Eve shenanigans.
But if there’s anything The Greatest Beer Run Ever does “right,” it’s an exemplary full-length showcase for all the creative compulsions that go with portraying the Vietnam War from a Western perspective. By eschewing the perspectives or even names of Vietnamese citizens, The Greatest Beer Run Ever provides a cautionary tale for future films about what not to do when making a feature film about the Vietnam War.
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Granted, The Greatest Beer Run Ever’s focus on a western perspective was ingrained in its launch concept. Chickie was a real person, and making a film about his inexplicable decision to travel to a war zone to bring his boys some Pabst Blue Ribbons means focusing the narrative on a white man. But that doesn’t excuse the film’s shortcomings in terms of its western perspective, while the mere existence of The Greatest Beer Run Ever should make one wonder what stories Hollywood is bringing to the big screen and why. This film ends up being a reflection on how the Vietnam War was hell, but why was this concept told in a way that would inevitably spotlight white westerners?
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The film ignores the Vietnamese perspective
Let’s get down to what’s in the film’s lyrics. The Greatest Beer Run Ever’s interest in native Vietnamese characters is incredibly limited. The most prominent native of this country that the audience encounters is Crossing Guard Hieu (Kevin K Tran), although his interest in musicals, Oklahoma!, earning him the nickname “Oklahoma”. This character appears in two separate sequences in which he forms a friendly relationship with Dickie, only to die shortly after the second of their conversations. The only other notable Vietnamese characters to appear throughout the run are an enemy soldier who was tortured in a helicopter before being thrown to the ground far below, a bartender who briefly talks about how other countries are treating Vietnam in the over the years, as well as a young girl trying to say hello to Dickie before she gets scared (the child’s mother appears briefly on screen).
Quantity does not equal quality. The minimal number of Vietnamese characters in The Greatest Beer Run Ever is troubling, but the script could have made that handful of characters incredibly memorable and it would have been less of an issue. Still, The Greatest Beer Run Ever’s minimal presence of natives in Vietnam ties a gigantic anchor around its intent to point out how detrimental the Vietnam War was. Vietnamese characters only show up when they can be of service to Dickie, we never get a sense of their life apart from the main character of this film. How can we understand how the Vietnam War affected the lives of innocent people when the film itself is not interested in those lives at all?
None of these characters get any specific detail that makes them stand out after the film ends, and only Hieu gets a name. The young girl startling Dickie doesn’t even get audible dialogue as her sequence is drowned out by an intrusive pin drop. Even in a film that appears to be about a man who recognizes the horrors Americans are inflicting on Vietnam, Vietnamese characters cannot even be heard by the audience. At least this bartender can engage in a few chats, but his entire personality boils down to just rehashing Vietnam’s past. Its dialogue is a by-product of how The Greatest Beer Run Ever tends to reduce all of its characters’ dialogue (Vietnamese or not) to either repeating historical facts or their political perspective, an odd mistake that spoils any attempt at depth confer, really hampered to the native Vietnamese.Image via Apple TV+
In the film, Vietnamese characters are more important when they are dead
Worse, The Greatest Beer Run Ever largely portrays its Vietnamese characters as the most important ones, as corpses who can pound home life lessons into Dickie’s skull. This is a puzzling approach to these characters on several levels, including how using it twice in a relatively short span of time within the script minimizes the impact of each death. Also, neither seems to make a huge impact on Chickie, with the narrative shifting focus to Chickie receiving a pep talk from journalist Arthur Coates (Russell Crowe) shortly after that man discovered Hieu’s body. This character might as well not even have died since his passing affects so little the plot of the film. Also, letting these people die just to teach westerners a very simple moral can’t help but come across as gross. Surely there were better things to do with Vietnamese in this story than just reducing them to being willing to fetch a body bag.
The film lessens the impact of the war on the Vietnamese people
On the other hand, this is perhaps the only role for Vietnamese characters in a cinematic narrative that seeks to condense the Vietnam War into a life lesson for Western characters. This approach recognizes the brutality of American imperialism that has shaped its presence in Vietnam. However, it keeps the audience from having to face the true weight of that past by viewing Vietnamese characters as either caricatures or vaguely defined beings. Giving them depth would mean seeing them as people with lives, dreams, hopes, blocks, and everything in between. Forcing Western viewers to reconcile how such complex people have been negatively impacted by America’s actions would no doubt be more difficult for this demographic to watch than having Zac Efron fall into mad riots and learn awkwardly learned lessons like giving up the Alcohol…or at least drink less.
To be clear, none of this is meant to imply that Peter Farrelly, the other writers of The Greatest Beer Run Ever, or anyone involved in this film (including the real Chickie) is “racist” or has any specific hostility towards Vietnamese cherishes Making a film that encapsulates the Vietnam War and the indigenous peoples it affected through western eyes without ever adding extra dimension to these characters is inherently rooted in harmful ideology. Regardless of the personal political beliefs of the people who brought it to life, this type of conspiracy will always be mired in retrograde concepts.
The disappointing and familiar flaws in Western eyes’ portrayal of Vietnam, its people and culture in The Greatest Beer Run Ever are made even more puzzling by the film’s overall tone. The somberness of the scenes depicting the hardships of war (including a moment when a soldier emerges from an explosion with his arm missing) suggests that everyone involved was aiming to deliver something profound here, a treatise on that War is much more complicated than standard jingoism. Conceptually sublime ideas are dragged back down to earth through an often startlingly miscalculated execution, particularly in the screenplay’s carelessness to ever bring additional layers of depth to its Vietnamese characters. Perhaps nothing symbolizes The Greatest Beer Run Ever’s western perspective better than the fact that it seems convinced it is doing the right thing while either silencing or exploiting the people of a foreign land.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever is available now on Apple TV+.