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Hiep Thi Le,
Tommy Lee Jones,
Haing S. Ngor
The biography of Ron Kovic. Paralyzed in the Vietnam war, he becomes an anti-war and pro-human rights political activist after feeling betrayed by the country he fought for. Written by
Murray Chapman <email@example.com>
When Ron is taking the train to Upstate NY a Mass Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) commuter train is used. See more »
I had a mother; I had a father, things - things that made sense. Do you remember things that made sense? Things you could count on? Before we all got so lost? What are we gonna do, Charlie? What am I gonna do?
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An ambitious film but it doesn't pull it off despite being worth a look for Cruise alone
Having had an all-American upbringing in Long Island, Ron Kovic leaves school and decides to sign up for the marines to represent his country in Vietnam and make a difference. Having seen all manner of horrors, Ron is shot and wounded in the field and finds himself in a veterans hospital where he hopes to regain the use of his legs despite the advice of doctors. When he realises he will never walk again, it starts his mental collapse and he becomes increasing disillusioned with the country and he lost his legs for.
There is nothing I dislike more than hearing uninformed people from other countries spouting about Northern Ireland so I'll be very careful about launching into any sort of preaching I'll leave that to Stone himself. It isn't that I don't want to know more it's just that I have so much to learn about my own culture and history that who has the time for wandering off to learn about America's! Anyway, there is no need for me to get on a soapbox because this film has a darn good go at doing it by itself. The basic plot is fine and very involving, mostly because it is a real person, not just a character but it weakens its impact by playing to the simplistic side of things. For example there is no question about Ron being a clean cut, shy boy, nor is there any complexity about how badly he is treated afterwards. In some regards this is fair enough but at times I wished that Stone had not been so strong in his sense of moral outrage because it doesn't give the subject the balance and subjectivity that it deserves to be presented with.
This alone does not make it a bad film however, and it isn't ever bad just a touch heavy handed at points but it is very difficult to watch impassively and uninvolved. The film shows Kovic's collapse and gradual disillusionment really well in a way that stands for the mental and/or physical suffering of many vets who must have come back to find that the sacrifice they had made was not even supported by the vocal section of the populace. In a way, focusing on this one man makes for a story that is intimate but also has wider significance but in another way it means the film has to go into very specific areas that don't work so well. In particular I didn't think that Ron's Mexican trip worked that well and some aspects of his life were simply forgotten about (Donna?) and I wondered why they had even bothered to include them at all. Anyway, despite these comments the film still worked for me and it is an impacting story even if Oliver Stone is not the person I would have chosen to tell the story a very good director but 'non-partisan' is not a term that could ever be laid at his feet and at points this film gets a little sermonising as a result.
A big factor in this film working is a superb performance by Cruise who was still, at this point, a clean cut poster boy and not the one I would have imagined taking this role! In the first of two performances that I believe he should have won an Oscar for (the other being SA for Magnolia), Cruise is very brave and very strong in the lead, convincingly taking us from a patriotic young boy to a injured soldier to a broken man to a man trying to put all the pieces together. Credit to both Cruise and the editor that this is done convincingly and without too many big jumps in character. Outside of Cruise though, nobody is really given a great deal of material to work with and all their characters are pretty two-dimensional and fleeting. If anything the support cast's main impact is to keep bringing well known faces to the screen; these include Barry, Sedgwick, Whaley, Baldwin (times two!), Dale Dye, Berenger, LeGros, Bob Gunton, Vivica Fox, Mike Starr (and brother), Dafoe, Sizemore, Eagle Eye Cherry, Wayne Knight and John C McGinley. Few of these have much to do but it is impressive how many faces there are that have since gone on to become well-known actors in their own right (I personally was surprised to see McGinley's only contribution being pushing a wheelchair or Fox being on screen (topless) for about 3 seconds with only one line) but this actually takes away from the film more than it gives now.
Overall this is an impacting film but not a great one. The story has a few bits that don't really work and aren't delivered very well, while Stone's direction occasionally gets all preachy on us but, although the now all-star cast are not great, Cruise is superb and deals with the difficult role well.
A very ambitious film and not one that manages to get it all right but still a film that is hard to ignore even if the same subject has been done better in other films.
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