Born on the Fourth of July: A Retrospective Review
It is July 4th, I thought I'd give you my review of this film. This film is a biographical war drama film based on the best-selling autobiography of the same name by Vietnam War veteran, Ron Kovic. Tom Cruise(ironically born on July 3) stars in this film and Oliver Stoneco-wrote the screenplay with Kovic, and also produced and directed the film. This will be a full discussion of the film so there will be some spoilers but the movie came out 28 years ago so you've had time.
The Story/The Direction:
This movie starts off in the early 1960s on July 4th. Young Ron Kovic is at a parade that is celebrating prior war veterans defending America and later he hears John F. Kennedy's famous words, "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." It is in this moment that he realizes that he wants to fight for his country. As a high schooler, Kovic is the typical star athlete and high school throb that all the girls are after but when Marine recruiters come to his school, he is ready to throw that all away to sign up. He knows there's a danger of dying but he believes whole-heartily that it would be worth it for his country. We then go to the battlefield where we see the horrors of this the Vietnam war where Kovic makes a mistake that tortures him for years after he gets home. After becoming paralyzed, he returns back the States. He is greeted as a hero by some but as a murderer by others. He gets to be in the parade that he once saw as a child but now there are protesters who go against everything that he stands for. They look at him as an evil man but Kovic sees himself as a man who did what other men did before him, fought for their country. He then proceeds to become a drunk with loads of self-pity because he realizes that in addition to all that he has suffered from the war, he will never be able to be with a woman in an ordinary way. He becomes outraged and eventually, he leaves for Mexico. Here, he meets a lot of other crippled veterans who pay for women and drugs and he finds himself somewhat at home. But it isn't until he is confronted by another veteran, Charlie (Willem Dafoe), that he realizes that he needs to return to his actual home to discuss what happened to him over in Vietnam.
Stone is known for his Vietnam War-related films and you can see his passion in showing the brutality that he knew as combatant there where he was wounded twice. His first Vietnam film, Platoon, showed this but I enjoyed this film more. Not because it's a better film, per say, but because it took a man who changes his mind about the war after coming back. This movie is not about the brutality of the war itself, but rather what happens when you come home. Stone takes Kovic's story in stride and shows how a someone's ideologies can change over time because of what they learn from their experiences. Stone is able to show you this through an excellently written screenplay and his close up shots of the characters. This shows you the emotion that they are feeling in each scene whether it be happiness, anger, rage, or sadness.
This is, in my opinion, is Cruise's best performance. Cruise has now become more of an action star in films like theMission: Impossible film series and people forget that he once was known for his actual acting ability. At the time, his biggest films were Top Gun, Risky Business, and Rain Man.While Risky Business and Rain Man are both great and Top Gun perhaps started his acting career, this is the film where he shined. As shown through Stone's filming of faces and Cruise's emotions, you see the pain and suffering that Kovic went through. Cruise has one of those really young boy faces that he fits perfectly into this role of this guy who wants to defend his country. As the plot progresses, you see how this innocence leaves his face and he becomes someone else entirely. This is what both Cruise and Stone show us in this film.
Where this movie fault is when it starts to address Kovic's protesting life. It felt kind of rushed at the end of the film to bring Kovic full circle. Stone is able to show the horrors of the Vietnam War and its aftermath because of his experiences but he barely shows the protests. After Kovic comes back from Mexico, the next scenes are sort of pushed together. You also never get any resolve for his relationship with his parents. Their last encounter was so heated that you assume their relationship was not rebuilt but it wasn't said either way. One relationship that Stone chooses to focus on is Kovic's with his mother (Caroline Kava). She is the one who says that he is going to be huge one day, speaking to a lot of people about something important. She is the one who confronts him on everything. His dad is more of the supportive character and she is the one who has the problem seeing her son for who he is. This is kind of forgotten after Mexico. Yeah, she kicks him out but his dad states that he'll do whatever he can to help Kovic. So it just seems a little confusing to what happens after. Also, a lot of the supporting characters are given this lackluster development. The story though is about Kovic and no one else really so it didn't both me too much.
This film by Stone tells the story of the typical wannabe soldier being "Born on the Fourth of July," and a "Yankee doodle boy" to a "Memorial day on wheels." There is a lot of violence shown but unlike Hacksaw Ridge that uses violence to showcase one man's journey and villainizing another culture, this film uses it to show the brutality of the war itself from both sides. You see the harm that the soldiers were doing to the Vietnamese people and vice versa. This film also shows the problems that a lot of veterans face as they come home. Kovic is wonderfully played by Cruise who never stops fighting battles even in Mexico where he gets into an argument with Defoe's character. I personally think this was a purposeful choice in name. "Charlie" was a name used by the American soldiers to refer to the communist forces, due to "Charlie" representing "C" in the NATO phonetic alphabet. This showed that no matter where Kovic went, he was still fighting the war even when he fights for stopping the war. It was just in a different capacity than when he started which is what this film was about, a change of ideology. This film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won two, for Best Director and Best Film Editing.
Rating: 4.5/5.0 bowties
What did you all think of the film? Let me know in the comments section.
Thanks for reading!