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Born on the Fourth of July

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Born on the Fourth of July

Starring: Tom Cruise, Kyra Sedgwick
Director: Oliver Stone
Rated: R
RunTime: 145 Minutes
Release Date: December 1989
Genres: Drama, War

*Also starring: Raymond J. Barry, Caroline Kava, Jerry Levine, Willem Dafoe, Bryan Larkin, Josh Evans, Frank Whaley, Stephen Baldwin, Tom Berenger

Review by Brian Koller
3½ stars out of 4

"Born on the Fourth of July" is an excellent film that tends to be under-rated since it is not entertaining. The film is mostly a downer, but so is its message, and the message is both important and well-conveyed.

Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) is a small-town high school student during the mid-1960s. Anxious to serve his country, he joins the Marines, and soon finds himself in Vietnam. A series of devastating experiences follows: he takes part in a massacre of innocent villagers, he accidentally kills another Marine, he himself is shot and paralyzed from the chest down, his recovery is at a wretched Veteran's hospital.

Kovic returns to his hometown and is welcomed as a war hero. But he soon becomes bitter over his handicap, and looks for targets for his resentment. At first he subjects his family to tirades against draft protestors, but later decides that the government is to blame, and that the Vietnam War is wrong. Evicted by his own parents, Kovic tries to find his place in Mexico, but his inner demons follow him there.

"Born on the Fourth of July" improves as it moves along. Early scenes with Kovic in high school don't completely work, as the actors are ten years too old for their roles. Kovic's stint in boot camp is bypassed, and his service in Vietnam is a blur, depicted as only a handful of scenes. The film begins to find its identity in its second hour, with Kovic in a miserable Veteran's hospital. Kovic's character becomes more clear, and he is shown as something more than just a naive patriot. The depiction of the hospital as a hell-hole with rats, indifferent staff and broken equipment is effectively chilling.

The film becomes still better after Kovic's return home. His disillusionment with the War and the government changes his character, and causes conflicts with his deeply conservative parents. His parents (Carolyn Kava and Josh Evans) are well portrayed, and their clothes and hairstyles are a perfect fit for the era.

"Born on the Fourth of July" does leave a few loose ends. Donna (Kyra Sedgwick) vanishes after a Vietnam war demonstration, and after building up Kovic's speech at 1976 Democratic Convention, we don't get to see it. We also don't know whether Kovic ever reconciled with his parents.

Still, an excellent if painful-to-watch film. This was Oliver Stone's second film to earn him an Oscar for Best Director, the other also dealing with Vietnam, "Platoon". But "Born on the Fourth of July" covers new ground by concentrating on the postwar effect of a paralyzed veteran. The film was nominated for "Best Picture", "Best Writing" and "Best Actor" (Cruise).

Copyright 1999 Brian Koller

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