A zealous teenager volunteers to fight in the Vietnam war, but when he returns home paralyzed and embittered, he becomes a voice for the disenchanted. — Genre: Feature Film-Drama — Rating: R — Release Date: 31-OCT-2000 — Media... more » Type: DVD« less
"I didn't want to like this movie. I'm usually resistant to any film whose director grinds an ax so relentlessly as Oliver Stone has been known to, and never so obviously as with this film. But I recently ran across the NY Times list of 1000 best films, and "Born On the Fourth of July" is listed there. While any such list is naturally debatable, it caused me to want to see more of those on the list that I hadn't seen, and a satellite channel was running this film at a convenient time. I must say, the excellence of Stone's craftsmanship, and of Tom Cruise's performance, wore down my resistance to his message, although it took almost half of this lengthy biopic to get past my defenses.
What we have here is the true story of a man whose birthday coincides with that of his country, a young man who was properly raised to love all things American. His patriotism led him to volunteer for the Marine Corps and the Vietnam war in the late 1960s, where everything he had ever believed was challenged in the strongest possible terms. The watershed events that finally moved him from traditional all-out American patriot to an American who loves his country but distrusts the government and opposes war, however, were events that mostly followed that famously horrifying war, and said events were often as horrifying in their own way as the things he experienced in Vietnam.
This truly is an excellent film, no doubt about it. Stone, a Vietnam vet himself, frames his story expertly, brings out superb performances from all of his players, and included Mr. Kovic (on whose autobiographical book this film is based) at every stage of the production. The pacing of the tale is smooth and understandable for its nearly 2-1/2 hour length, and the viewer never has a serious problem wondering where Cruise's character is coming from emotionally or intellectually.
"Born On the Fourth of July" has proven to be the capstone of Oliver Stone's career, and was the performance that took Tom Cruise from teen idol to respected actor. No wonder, as Cruise at times does more in this film with a look than he had been able to accomplish with pages of dialogue earlier in his career.
As with almost any 'Nam film, the gore of battle and over-the-top filthy language of its scarred survivors mean that viewing it is more of a cathartic experience than a pleasant one, but beyond that my only nitpick is that one scene has some vets listening to Don McLean's "American Pie" in 1968, three years before the song was recorded. With that minor caveat, the film has given me a lot to think about. While I don't agree with Stone's politics, there is no question that he, Kovic, and others have arrived at their perspective honestly and forcefully, and this film serves as a fine record of a time in our country's history when we fought a second civil war of sorts. Men like Stone and Kovic are the living casualties of that time, and they deserve our respect."
Haunting and distrubing, but ultimately redemptive
Dennis Littrell | SoCal | 10/23/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
Quaker Annie | 06/17/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Another addition to our family library, which we keep filled with books that entertain and/or educate. This movie, however, is not for the younger kids nor for the weak of heart, but for older members of the family, especially kids who might have fallen for the "John Wayne is cool" view point of war (or in our day, perhaps Mortal Kombat is cool view point of life) OR the young pacifist who believes that those who go to war are bad. We're all so tenderly human, and that's what this movie shows. The reason some find this depressing, I think, is that it shows the loss of innocence of the man who wrote this autobiography, Ron Kovic, who goes to war during the Vietnam era longing to be a hero, and returns damaged emotionally and physically, and receives the welcome of a baby-killer. Note: When the book version of this movie was due to come out, back in the 70's, I was working in a bookstore. Long-haired ex-vets would come in, looking for the book and I (duh) didn't understand why they were so enthusiastic. The book was the first attention given to what the war experience did to those who fought in it, which later opened the doors for WWII veterans to be able to talk about the emotional horrors of war.I read the book, and years later watched the movie - either of these are incredible experiences - if you like Saving Private Ryan, you will want to watch this movie, too."
Penetrating Look At The Afternmath Of Vietnam!
Barron Laycock | Temple, New Hampshire United States | 08/25/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"To date, no one has evoked the turbulent realities of life during the sixties as well as babyboomer Oliver Stone. His heart-rending portrayal of the fate of a naive young man out to imitate the heroic exploits of screen icons John Wayne and Audie Murphy is a modern classic, a cautionary tale of the horrible consequences of blindly trusting the government to do what is is right by this young man and hundreds of thousands just like him. Kovics enlists in the Marines and volunteers for duty in Vietnam, thereby fatefully and tragically changing the arc of his young life as a result. While this true story based on the best-selling autobiography of disabled Vietnam vet Ron Kovics is first and foremost Kovics' personal story, it is also very much the story of the Vietnam war's aftermath, of its bounty brought home, and the movie quite accurately depicts its searing impacts on the lives of all the survivors of the war itself (whether direct participants or not) and the fractious, violent and sometimes bloody clash between the traditional true believers on the one hand and a whole range of thoughtful dissenters on the other against continuation of the war. Tom Cruise is superb here, and the uncensored truth of the times and trials and wracking search for a new sort of meaningful balance in his new life of permanent disability if a deep dark look at the realities of what the war did to millions of young men who wanted nothing more than to honorably serve their country. This is a terrific movie, and one that deserved all the acclaim and awards it won for everyone involved. Two thumbs up from this aisle seat for "Born On The Fourth Of July"."
"Fourth" Sparkles and Fizzles
quasar_909 | Cosmos | 04/21/2001
(2 out of 5 stars)
""Born on the Fourth of July" is a metaphor for America's transformation from an idealistic nation to a cynical and fragmented society. And we see this transformation through the eyes of the film's tragic hero, Ron Kovic, who changes from an all-American, gung ho Marine wannabe to a cynical, embittered paralyzed Viet Nam vet.The primary strength of this film is its ability to draw you into Kovic's world. You feel Kovic's sense of bitterness and betrayal when he comes home to find that America is now a hostile and divided nation and that veterans like him are not welcome. If anything, they're scorned for having fought in Viet Nam.Another strength of this film is Oliver Stone's use of foreshadowing. The night before Kovic leaves for boot camp, Kovic runs through a rainstorm to be with his girl at the senior prom. As they dance, Henry Mancini's "Moon River" plays in the background and in watching this scene, one gets a sense of foreboding that this will be the last time Kovic and his girl friend will ever share such an intimate moment.While "Born on the Fourth of July" has its merits, it also has some glaring shortcomings. Namely, it's an uneven film that requires the viewer to "fill in the blanks." Throughout the film, Stone gives the viewer an overview of Ron Kovic's life and how he changed from an idealistic high school student-athlete to a radical anti-war activist. However, the audience is forced to draw their own conclusions as to how, when and why this change occurred. Stone also plays fast-and-loose with the truth in this film and he seems more intent on making a political statement rather than a biographical docu-drama. As other commentators have pointed out, Kovic never was a demonstrator at the 1972 Republican Convention. While this bit of fiction serves to promote Stone's political views, it's also self-defeating as it undermines the film's credibility."Born on the Fourth of July" is something of a revisionist film that also tends to be rather sanctimonious at times. Yet, for all its shortcomings, "Born on the Fourth of July" is a powerful, evocative film that will play with your emotions."