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I avoided this when it came out in 1989 having seen Coming Home (1978) and not wanting to revisit the theme of paraplegic sexual dysfunction and frustration. I also didn't want to reprise the bloody horror of our involvement in the war in Vietnam that I knew Oliver Stone was going to serve up. And Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic? I just didn't think it would work.
Well, my preconceptions were wrong.
First of all, for those who think that Tom Cruise is just another pretty boy (which was basically my opinion), this movie sets that mistaken notion to rest. He is nothing short of brilliant in a role that is enormously demanding--physically, mentally, artistically, and emotionally. I don't see how anybody could play that role and still be the same person. Someday in his memoirs, Tom Cruise is going to talk about being Ron Kovic as directed by Oliver Stone.
And second, Stone's treatment of the sex life of Viet Vets in wheelchairs is absolutely without sentimentality or silver lining. There are no rose petals and no soft pedaling. There was no Jane Fonda, as in Coming Home, to play an angel of love. Instead the high school girl friend understandably went her own way, and love became something you bought if you could afford it.
And third, Stone's depiction of America--and this movie really is about America, from the 1950s to the 1970s--from the pseudo-innocence of childhood war games and 4th of July parades down Main street USA to having your guts spilled in a foreign land and your brothers-in-arms being sent home in body bags--was as indelible as black ink on white parchment. He takes us from proud moms and patriotic homilies to the shameful neglect in our Veteran's hospitals to the bloody clashes between anti-war demonstrators and the police outside convention halls where reveling conventioneers wave flags and mouth phony slogans.
I have seen most of Stone's work and as far as fidelity to authentic detail and sustained concentration, this is his best. There are a thousand details that Stone got exactly right, from Dalton Trumbo's paperback novel of a paraplegic from WW I, Johnny Got His Gun, that sat on a tray near Kovic's hospital bed, to the black medic telling him that there was a more important war going on at the same time as the Vietnam war, namely the civil rights movement, to a mother throwing her son out of the house when he no longer fulfilled her trophy case vision of what her son ought to be, to Willem DaFoe's remark about what you have to do sexually when nothing in the middle moves.
Also striking were some of the scenes. In particular, the confession scene at the home of the boy Kovic accidentally shot; the Mexican brothel scene of sex/love desperation, the drunken scene at the pool hall bar and the pretty girl's face he touches, and then the drunken, hate-filled rage against his mother, and of course the savage hospital scenes--these and some others were deeply moving and likely to haunt me for many years to come.
Of course, as usual, Oliver Stone's political message weighed heavily upon his artistic purpose. Straight-laced conservatives will find his portrait of America one-sided and offensive and something they'd rather forget. But I imagine that the guys who fought in Vietnam and managed to get back somehow and see this movie, will find it redemptive. Certainly to watch Ron Kovic, just an ordinary Joe who believed in his country and the sentiments of John Wayne movies and comic book heroics, go from a depressed, enraged, drug-addled waste of a human being to an enlightened, focused, articulate, and ultimately triumphant spokesman for the anti-war movement, for veterans, and the disabled was wonderful to see. As Stone reminds us, Kovic really did become the hero that his misguided mother dreamed he would be.
No other Vietnam war movie haunts me like this one. There is something about coming back less than whole that is worse than not coming back at all that eats away at our consciousness. And yet in the end there is here displayed the triumph of the human will and a story about how a man might find redemption in the most deplorable of circumstances.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!"
Oliver Stone's Born on the Fourth of July to me is better than Platoon,
or at least more psychologically moving and cinematically compelling.
While Platoon, Stone's totally personal account of the Vietnam war is
quite accurate and superb in many ways, this film is better if only
because it's not Stone's story. He takes the tale of Ron Kovic (who
wrote the book with the same name as the film and scripted by him and
Stone) and turns it into a blisteringly awesome and ultimately
harrowing picture that has performances, scenes and direction that top
Platoon (maybe it's a sign that practice makes perfect)
Anyway, the tale centers on Ron Kovic (played to a utter T by Tom Cruise) good old-boy-type of American kid who decides he wants to fight for his country in the Vietnam war even if he has to die for his country. He fights, witnesses horror and makes a tragic mistake and comes back home a crippled from the waist down veteran, who has to endure the emotional and physical pain of just being a veteran of Vietnam in a country where they are put down more than revered. All this, and more (including one of the most volcanic scenes I have ever seen between Cruise and Dafoe on a Mexico road) lead him to become a anti-war activist.
In making the big theme of the picture Kovic and his feeling on the war, Stone depicts his journey excellently by showing his desire to be in it, his confusion afterwards, his eventual hatred and then placement in being against the war all the while still being a patriot. Not only does it work as a saga/war movie, but also as a 180 degree change tale. Must, must see for all Stone fans and for anybody who wants to see what Cruise can actually do with proper direction and script.
When asked why he wanted to make another film about Vietnam after the
success of 'Platoon,' Oliver Stone is quoted as saying, 'There was
another war waiting for the soldiers when they returned home.' Indeed,
he was right. 'Born On the Fourth Of July,' based on the book by Ron
Kovic, follows Kovic's account of his experiences in Vietnam and the
indifferent nation that he returned to. Although released in 1989, it
holds up to the current situation that exists in Iraq now-many refer to
it as the new Vietnam. Regardless of anyone's opinion on the current
Iraq war, 'Born On the Fourth of July' is one of the most affecting,
and important war related films of all time.
As the film opens, we find a young Kovic pretending to be a soldier with friends-a time when the idea of being a soldier was heroic since their father's had been heroes in WWII. The film then follows Kovic as a popular athlete in high school up to his recruitment as a Marine. Kovic rationalizes his reasons for joining up as Communists have missiles pointed at us now and we have to save our country from its threats.
During his time in Vietnam, Kovic sees the true nature of war. His platoon mistakenly fires upon a town where the enemy is supposedly hiding; however, they end up killing women and children. During the confusion that follows, Kovic accidentally shoots a fellow soldier-his guilt would encompass him for years to come. But when Kovic himself is wounded in a field, he is sent home paralyzed from the waist down. He spends the first few months in a veteran hospital, which in this case, was a slum. The doctors inform him that he will never be able to use his legs again, and that he no longer has the ability to have children.
When he returns to his home, he realizes that the world has changed. People protest the war, sometimes protesting against the soldiers themselves. His own family is indifferent to the war, as are his old friends. In one scene, he is told by an old friend who has become successful as a fast food manager, 'people here-they don't give a s**t about the war! To them it's just a million miles away.'
Eventually becoming disillusioned by everything in his hometown, Kovic spends a great deal of time with other veterans like himself at a resort in Mexico. Later he becomes an activist-his first public activism took place at the 1972 Republican National Convention where he was televised for exposing the reality of what soldiers endured in Vietnam, but also on the reasons why we did not belong there in the first place.
'Born On the Fourth of July' spends a good deal of time focusing on the misplaced patriotism that the politicians spewed at the public to drum up support not only for Vietnam, but the Cold War, in general. The film shows this by Kovic's own mother constantly reminding her son that he was doing the right thing by going over there and fighting and that he was in God's hands. When Kovic returns home and his disillusionment grows, he gets drunk one night and yells at his mother, 'There is no God. There is only me in this chair for the rest of my life!'
The film does stand up today just as strong as ever. With soldiers returning home from Iraq, and the constant media attention of terrorist attacks over there and seeing our own soldiers ambushed all the time, those who fight now must feel the same anger and frustration that Kovic felt year ago. It does make one wonder, when will the politicians ever truly get it! ****
You've heard the express "can't see the forest for the trees", right? It
refers to someone who gets so caught up in details, they miss the big
picture. Reading other comments on IMDb regarding "Born on the Fourth of
July", I think people have the opposite problem with this film. So many
people seem to get caught up in talking about Vietnam, war, Nixon, America,
Communism, and hippies, that they totally overlook Ron Kovic.
Ron Kovic is the center of this film. In "Platoon", war was the center, and the central character (Charlie Sheen's Chris Taylor) was merely a POV character through whose eyes we could see war. Not so in "Born on the Fourth of July". Vietnam is the setting, the context, and the backdrop. But Ron Kovic is the story.
Oliver Stone really understands a character arc. Look at Kovic's life, where it starts, where it ends. The film is the journey, how he got from A to B. It is a dramatization of a life, as opposed to an actual life, but it still rings true. It feels true. It reaches an artistic level of truth, even if some literal truths are overlooked, distorted, or rearranged. That's what Stone is trying to do. People who quibble about the facts miss the point. (This is a theme I will take up again when I review some of Stone's other films, as Stone is constantly being bashed for historical inaccuracies.) The connections from one point to the next work admirably, and the progression is completely believable, which is quite a feat for such a dramatic change of attitude (compare to "American History X", where the main character goes through a similar about face with scant motivation).
Anyway, what impresses me about this film is the honesty and respect with which Stone presents the opposing views of the film. Say what you want about Stone's political beliefs, but the argument in this film is presented in a very neutral light. It's a story about Kovic's choices, Kovic's politics, Kovic's judgments. And the anti-Vietnam beliefs he finally supports in the final act are a very natural and believable outcome of the story. This film isn't anywhere near as didactic as some people like to imagine.
The tragedy of Oliver Stone is that, because he has been so edgy, so controversial, so deliberately provocative, no one can really just sit down and, with a neutral eye, watch his films. They have become so burdened by this giant, irrelevant, political squabble. The films have been subsumed by the very issues they sought to raise. And it's a shame, with this film especially, because it is excellent.
Tom Cruise gives possibly the greatest performance of his career (I can't think of anything that tops it, though his performance in "Eyes Wide Shut", for very different reasons, is just as remarkable). The script is fantastic, taking time where it needs to take time, but not overly deliberate in its approach. It's very economical with time. It knows what each scene needs to say, and says it without any excess baggage, wasted space, or dead time. The direction is excellent, as is the editing and cinematography. The supporting cast is excellent.
But this movie would be nothing without the remarkable, heart-rending, true story of Ron Kovic. So, while we admire the technical achievement of the film, while we debate the points raised, while we enshrine or excoriate the director (as the case may be), let's not forget the story. Let's not get so fired up about Vietnam that we forget Ron Kovic. He is the heart and soul of this film.
One final note: I bristle when people call this an anti-war film. That really diminishes it, I think. It's so much more than that. It's not just saying that war is brutal, nasty, and horrific. It's saying something far more specific about a specific war, and about the effect of that war on a specific man.
What defines a great film? I believe that for a movie to be great,
should move you. It should make you think. It should make you reconsider
your views and outlooks. It should make you take a closer look at its
subject matter. It should draw attention to itself. Above all, you
gain some amount of enjoyment from a great film. I believe that BORN ON
FOURTH OF JULY was a great film. I say this because, whether or not you
agree with Ron Kovic's message, and although Oliver Stone almost ruined it
with his attempts to personalize reality, the movie still made people stop
and look. It literally defined the Vietnam War for a generation of Tom
Cruise fans, and made many more aware of what the vets went through. The
cinematography, score and fabulous acting made it a pleasure for many
to watch, if only to see how Cruise would deliver his next
The film grossed $70,001,698 nationwide. In 1989, when BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY was released, movie tickets cost five dollars. Therefore, over fourteen million American people went to the theater to see this movie. The number of viewers increases when you take into consideration the people who rented it on video or watched a television broadcast. It had that special something that made people think about issues that they might not have thought about before. It is lamentable that by 1989, many of the members of Generation X had paid little or no attention to the Vietnam War, even though only sixteen years had passed since the war's end. The younger generation was reminded that the war did, indeed, happen, and that the country was still being lambasted with the side effects.
The camera work was extremely effective in relaying the messages in the film. Different moods within the film were indicated by different tints in the color. Combats were filmed in red, while blue indicated sadness, and white tints where used in the dream sequences. Whether intended or not, the colors of choice also coincide with that of the American flag, which is very appropriate for the film. The film also employed a wide variety of interesting angles without becoming confusing to the viewer.
The musical score is one of the best of all time. John Williams is a genius in the music industry. His fabulous music can make a film feel the way it was intended to. He seems to simply know what sequence of notes will produce what emotions. Along with Williams' music, the score also includes some of the popular music from the time of the film's setting. For instance, AMERICAN PIE by Don McLean, MY GIRL by the Temptations, and MOONRIVER by Henry Mancini, all give the viewer who remembers the music a sense of nostalgia, taking them back to those years.
Two words sum up why the movie got the attention it did: Tom Cruise. Many critics were skeptical whether or not the pretty boy of RISKY BUSINESS and TOP GUN fame had what it took to portray a real life Vietnam veteran and make the audience believe he was that person. Fans crowded into the theaters to watch Cruise's handsome face (which was not so attractive through most of the film). Critics went to watch him blow the role. But he proved himself and went above and beyond what was expected of him in one of the most moving performances I have ever seen. He literally became Ron Kovic.
Many people were affected by BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY. It had great cinematography. Its soundtrack was inspiring and beautiful, pulling out of the viewer all possible emotions. Tom Cruise's performance as Ron Kovic blew almost everyone away. In short, BORN ON THE FORTH OF JULY has what it takes to be a great film. It overcomes Stone's blatant manipulation of facts, such as the violent conflict that in the movie occurs during a republican convention, but in reality occurred during a democratic convention. Powerful and touching, it drives its point home and back again, never missing a beat.
8 out of 10 stars
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Everything that people love and detest about Oliver Stone's films is in
full flower hereambitious theme, strengthen visual style, undisguised
The film is also an important turning point in Tom Cruise's career, completing his transformation from rising star to serious actor He received his first Academy Award nomination for his role as antiwar activist and Vietnam veteran Though Ron Kovic's story is presented as a distillation of the political and a violent social commotion that America went through from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies... At heart, it's propaganda
Stone begins the story as a twisted cinematic version with boys playing war in suburban woods It's Massapequa, Long Island, 1956
Ron Kovic grows up as a typical American white kid who believes in God, country, sports, and sex His father's (Raymond J. Barry) leaving his forceful mother (Caroline Kava) as the dominant personality in the home To Ron, she's a repressive slave driver who sets a standard he can never measure up to That, in part, is why he enlists in the Marines, straight out of high school Cut to the Cua Viet River, October 1967, where Sgt. Kovic is in his second tour
The short vision of Vietnam that Stone presents here is even more surreal and horrifying than the violence in "Platoon." An attack on a village is a disaster, and the Marines' retreat from it is even worse for Kovic That nightmare is settled when Kovic is seriously wounded, sent to a MASH unit, and then to a Bronx Veteran's Administration hospital...
Paralyzed from the waist down, Kovic sank into a deep depression From that moment, the next hour or so is a steep downward spiral of self-pity, drunkenness, anger, misery, and, most important, guilt over one incident for which he cannot forgive himself It's honest, unflattering, and ugly
Cruise's performance is one of his best, capturing both the cocky, insecure young man and the haunted veteran The motion picture is never boring and, until the last reel, the action moves forcefully
If Stone had elected in the middle section to spend less time rolling about with pleasure in Mexican fleshpots and to pay more attention to Kovic's full development, he might have created the antiwar epic he was aiming for, revealing the physical and psychological costs of one of the most tragic events in history
I remember when i first watched this film I became totally absorbed in it. I had to search out songs that I heard in the move.....I had to see other Vietnam movies again.....I had to watch other Stone movies. Its a superb film. Cruise gives the best peformance he ever will in a film as Kovic.....the golden boy who comes home paralysed and confused at the way his country is reacting to Vietnam. Some of the scenes in the film are very disturbing but the ones that affected me the deepest were not any battle scenes. When Ron comes home and looks at himself as a young boy in his wrestling kit was almost unbearable to watch. Also, the scene when he is drunk in the bar and comes out of his wheelchair had me turning away from the screen. This is a true epic film and the support cast and soundtrack are also superb. 5/5 easily.
Let's start with the good news. "Born on the Fourth of July" is an
absorbing piece of work, based on a true story, about Ron Kovic (Tom
Cruise), a gung-ho Marine-turned-war-protester. We first meet Kovic as
an all-American boy as strong in his faith as he is in his will to
succeed. After high school he proudly joins the Marines, hoping he'll
be shipped to Vietnam to stop the spread of communism. But the
barbarities of war, including civilian casualties, friendly fire and a
paralyzing bullet through the chest, gradually turn him against the
conflict. Director Oliver Stone's method of telling Kovic's story over
a period of several years is highly effective and convincing. Cruise is
at his best as Kovic, portraying a wide range of emotions and
developing apathy with the viewer. The audience feels what he feels,
from confusion on the battlefield to the terror of being paralyzed from
the waist down.
Now for the bad news. The picture is overly political, with Stone once again (and unnecessarily) casting Republicans as the bad guys and Democrats as the good guys (seemingly ignoring that the Dems initially sent the troops to 'Nam). The film also takes a while to build up steam, and the all-American life of the pre-Marine Kovic seems a little too perfect to be believable. Obviously a story such as this requires adequate screen time, but the 145 minutes is slightly drawn out, particularly toward the end. And although one of its central themes is the opposition to the war that greeted returning vets, the genesis and rationale of that opposition are not adequately explored.
As a whole, however, "Born of the Fourth of July" is recommended. Kovic's biography and Stone's masterful storytelling are a perfect match. It's not your typical war movie. In fact, it's not your typical movie, period.
"Born on the Fourth of July" is a film based on the real-life experiences of Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise in an Oscar-nominated role). As a young man he feels that Vietnam is just another battleground for the United States. Even after he returns home paralyzed from the waist down, he still feels that Vietnam is important and that if you do not support the fighting then you should leave America. However, he has a change of heart and becomes an anti-war activist who realizes that one gets nothing out of combat but heartache and sorrow. Oliver Stone's screenplay is pretty strong, but it is his unrelenting direction that makes the material work throughout. Tom Cruise established himself as a high-class actor and the film stays above water because of that fact. The lack of character support does impede the progress of the film though. Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, and Kyra Sedgwick make somewhat token appearances and the impact of their screen-time is all minimal. Cruise's character dominates the film. This is both the film's strong point and weak point. All in all a strong film, but could have been so much more. 4 out of 5 stars.
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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