Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July is a deeply emotional and disturbing film that is surely one of his finest works ever. He earned a Best Director Oscar for directing this gut-wrenching true story of Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic. Kovic is played by Tom Cruise is what is easily his most accomplished role to date. It is through Cruise’s performance that this film becomes an engrossing look at the effects of war.

The movie’s opening sequences are dedicated to acquainting the audience with our hero’s small-town lifestyle. He grows up in a strict Catholic household where he learns the traits of nationalism and religious pride that have been the code of his parents’ lives. In fact, his father is a veteran himself, but strangely enough, it is his mother that is encouraging war more than him.

Ron is a hard-working student and a star wrestler for the high school team of Massapequa, New York. He has strong feelings for a lifelong friend named Donna (Kyra Sedgwick), but he is a little bit too shy to do much about them. When a Marine recruiter, played superbly in this scene by Tom Berenger, visits the high school, Ron is determined to become a Marine. He even tells his parents that he is willing to die for his country. For a high school kid to say something like that, he’s got to have a lot a character, and Kovic certainly does.

However, his tour of duty doesn’t go too well. There are a series of gritty, realistic, and disoriented battle scenes that show the horror and confusion that these soldiers face in battle. It is during these sequences that our hero is shot twice, once in the foot and once in the chest. After being rescued, Ron learns that he is paralyzed from the mid-chest down, and this sets the stage for the grueling scenes at Bronx Veterans Administration Hospital. These are some of the most disturbing scenes I have seen in a long time, but they are perfectly executed. We learn even more of Kovic’s determination as he convinces himself he will walk again. It is through this determination that Ron tries to use crutches and braces more and more every day to hopefully lead to a brighter future. Unfortunately, he faces some dire setbacks that almost cost him his leg.

The performances in this film are exceptional. Willem Dafoe has a small, but meaty role as another paralyzed veteran that Kovic eventually meets, and Frank Whaley also turns in a strong performance as a long time friend. However, this is clearly Cruise’s film. It is a complete showcase for the actor and every moment feels so real and genuine. He plays the character with such raw emotion that I can’t help but believe the real Ron Kovic was astonished at how true the performance turned out.

The most emotional scenes in the movie are when Kovic first returns home. It is an incredibly powerful and alarming experience to watch this warrior return home to his neighborhood in a wheelchair. Ron makes it clear that he doesn’t want his family’s pity, but he can’t help looking into their eyes and seeing how devastated they are. His parents in the film are played by Raymond J. Barry and Caroline Kava, and they are brilliant in these scenes, putting up an incredible effort to match Cruise’s on-screen magic.

In spite of all the greatness, it is in these particular scenes that the film finds its flaw. It’s not that they aren’t masterfully executed; it’s just the fact that they appear too early in the film. Kovic’s return home was undoubtedly the emotional high point of the film for me, but it comes only an hour into this 145 minute movie. After I watched these scenes, nothing else in the film had as great of an effect on me as it should have because it just couldn’t compare to the power of Ron’s return.

It is so tough for me to recommend this film simply because it is such an emotional journey that is, more often than not, quite depressing. But, if you feel like you can stomach another tragic war film, then this is definitely one that’s worth checking out. Stone has proven himself one of the more prominent political voices in cinema over the past twenty or thirty years, and his views are present throughout this film. Tom Cruise’s performance rivals anything that was put on screen in the late ‘80s, and this is a remarkable story that needs to be heard.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

This is a good film. Between this, My Left Foot, Crimes & Misdemeanors I don't see how DRIVING MISS DAISY won Best Picture.

Danny King said...

I would agree. Driving Miss Daisy is not nearly as effective as the films that you mentioned, particularly My Left Foot.

Anonymous said...

I think His Right Hand should have won best picture that year

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