Streamers (1983): Altman’s Version of David Rabe’s Play

Robert Altman directed and co-produced (with Robert Michael Geisler and John Roberdeau) Streamers, the last, most powerfully explosive in Rabe’s Vietnam War trilogy, which began with “The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel” and continued with “Sticks and Bones.”

Altman financed the film himself without a distribution deal, which allowed him to cast relatively unknown actors and to shoot it in 18 days (in Dallas).

In 1965, four young soldiers, waiting to be shipped to Vietnam, must confront racial tensions within their own group and their own intolerance and prejudice when one soldier reveals he is gay.

The cast includes largely unknown actors (at the time), such as David Alan Grier as Roger, a middle class African American Roger, Mitchell Lichtenstein as upper class Manhattanite Richie, who is struggling with his sexual orientation, Matthew Modine as conservative Wisconsin country boy Billy, and Michael Wright as fearful loose cannon Carlyle, a streetwise Black man.

Supervising the barracks are abrasive alcoholic Sgt. Cokes  (George Dzundza), who already has served overseas, and aggressive Sgt. Rooney (Guy Boyd) who is anxious to get into combat.

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In the first half, Altman uses his camera in the barracks as an invisible eavesdropper, appalled at what it observes, but nonetheless insisting on presenting it with punishing clarity.

The film was screened out of competition at the 1983 Cannes Film Fest.

The entire ensemble is good, especially Wright as the soldier who triggers a war within this troubled Army.

Matthew Modine – Billy
Michael Wright – Carlyle
Mitchell Lichtenstein – Richie
David Alan Grier – Roger
Guy Boyd – Rooney
George Dzundza – Cokes
Albert Macklin – Martin
B. J. Cleveland – Pfc. Bush
Bill Allen – Lt. Townsend
Paul Lazar – MP Lieutenant
Phil Ward – MP Sgt. Kilick
Terry McIlvain – Orderly
Todd Savell – MP Sgt. Savio
Mark Fickert – Dr. Banes
Dustye Winniford – Staff Sergeant


Directed by Robert Altman
Produced by Robert Altman, Nick J. Mileti
Written by David Rabe
Cinematography Pierre Mignot
Edited by Norman Smith
Distributed by United Artists Classics

Release date: September 5, 1983

Running time: 118 minutes
Budget $2 million
Box office: about $380,000