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