Born on the Fourth of July Reviews
This is all very fascinating stuff, and, despite the polemic nature of things, it is well done, and even though a bias is present, all sides do get some sort of representation, so the film isn't quite on the same level as something by Michael Moore for example.
Kovic was and is a very proud American, and yes, the film proves you can still be very patriotic even if you're anti-war. It's really a good blend of character study and philosophy, and that wasn't something I was expecting. It's also not nearly as heavy handed as I was expecting, though it is very heavy with the sentimentality, especially where John Williams's (solid) score and the cinematography (everything is shot in filters of either red, white, or blue depending on the emotional level or context of things) are concerned.
The cast that Stone rounded up is quite notable too. There's tons of recognizable names present, even if many of them have no more than just a few moments or even a couple of lines of dialogue. The big roles are cast wonderfully though, featuring the likes of Kyra Sedgwick, Willem Dafoe, Raymond J. Barry, and Tom Cruise in the lead as Kovic. This was the first time Cruise tried for something dramatic, serious, and very challenging. Not only did he pull it off, but this is still one of his all time best performances. You know, the kind which prove he really can act.
There's lots of great moments throughout, and they all are at different emotional levels. Two that really stick out for me however, are scenes that are dramatic (and are supposed to be), but still managed to unintentionally be hilarious as well. Those two scenes are the argument/breakdown where Ron screams profanities and the word penis loudly at his mother while drunk, and the wheelchair fight between Cruise and Dafoe. I felt kinda bad laughing, but I really just couldn't help it.
No matter your opinions on Cruise, Stone, or the subject matter, you really should give this one a watch. It is designed to provoke all sorts of reactions, and though it is unapologetic in its presentation, it is a worthy and remarkable film.
With Born on the Fourth of July Oliver Stone shows us how gung-ho America was going into the Vietnam war and how that conflict affected millions of lives by looking at one life in that war: Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise). The film opens with the youngster Kovic watching a Fourth of July parade in the 1950's that reeks of apple pie and Eisenhower. Kids played soldier in the woods to mimic their dads and uncles stories from Europe in the decade before. Jump ahead to Kovic near graduation and deciding to join the Marines. He is still gung ho and ready to die for his country in a war in Vietnam that will be "over before we get there". He goes to Vietnam where two tragic events change his life forever in which one of them is taking a NVA bullet that renders him paralyzed from the chest down. He returns to a different America, polarized by the war and finds himself slowly seeing that the war wasn't as honorable as he thought it was.
Tom Cruise finally got some respect from this film, proving that he could be more than the guy in his underwear dancing to Bob Seger or flying airplanes. By his return home he is a beaten man and it shows in his appearance. To me, this is Tom Cruise's first great performance. The remainder of the film from his return is mainly Stone showing Kovic's reaction to the turmoil that was the late '60's and the early '70's. The film shouts at us that this is how a million people reacted to it by looking at this one, lone man. It's a fascinating journey that Stone takes us on with ups and downs and the resentments and triumphs that go along with it. A terrific biopic.
Tom Cruise stars as Ron Kovic in the second of director Oliver Stone's Vietnam trilogy. Stone worked with the real Ron Kovic in order to try and capture what happened in his life, from his early childhood, through his tour in Vietnam, and up to the eventual outcome surrounding his injury and what people thought about the war when he came back home.
The movie starts off by showing us Kovic in his home town, desiring to become a marine and be a war hero like his father and the other WWII vets that he sees.
We then shift to Vietnam, where Kovic sees and is a part of things that shock and hurt him. He is also shot, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
This leads to the bulk of the film, which is better than what came before it. Kovic goes back home to a changed country. People take sides as to how effective this war really is and what to think about the government.
Kovic also goes through mental anguish involving a number of things including what it means to be seen as a war hero, the loss of his legs, what America thinks of him, how he should think of America, and so on.
He goes through a tough odyssey of sorts involving the things he is forced to deal with concerning his life and family, and what to do next.
Cruise is very good in this role, probably among his best work as an actor. What would now easily be considered Oscar bait, playing a war hero paraplegic, is a testament to how good someone has to be to pull it off. His performance in this movie is probably overshadowed by Gary Sinese a few years later as Lt. Dan in Forest Gump, as that is probably more of a memorable film, but that shouldn't take away from how good Cruise is.
There is also a good supporting cast that includes Raymond J. Barry as Kovic's father, Kyra Sedgwick as the girl he left behind, a number of people that were all in Platoon, including Willem Dafoe, who comes in late in the film to spice things up.
The score of this movie, which I picked up pretty quickly as being from John Williams fits well with the themes of this movie. This goes with the style of the film visually as well. There are a lot of neat 'Stone' moments that one can recognize from the way they are setup.
Stone, always being recognized for his editing style, makes that apparent here again for having a picture that flows well enough and moves into each scene appropriately.
While verging on too depressing at times, mixed with enough profanity to hold anyone over for a week, this is a good story with a great performance from Cruise.
Ron Kovic: Sometimes, Stevie, I think people, they know you're back from Vietnam, and their face - changes: the eyes, the voice, the way they look at you, you know.
Steve Boyer: I know what you mean, Ronnie, but people here - they don't give a shit about the war! Yeah! To them it's just a million miles away. It's all bullshit, anyway. I mean, the government sold us a bill of goods and we bought it, and got the shit kicked out of us, and for what, huh?
Ron Kovic: What do you mean, "we," Stevie? You were in college, man.
As with nearly every (Yeah, sure, "nearly") Oliver Stone film, things get to be overbearing, with style that's not quite as pronounced as it is in other Stone films, to where it will sometimes get stressed to the point of knocking you out of the resonance (By this time, Stone was about five years and an oil drum of acid away from "Natural Born Killers"), yet remains bound to become a little bit too much, and after a while, you're kind of exhausted, partially because the storytelling is faithful to the style's kind of obviousness. This is one of your more subtle Oliver Stone efforts, but come on, it's still Oliver Stone, and his ambitions of creating an emotionally intense tribute to the fighters, sufferers and dyers of 'Nam, as well as Ron Kovic himself, is all too palpable. During the Vietnam segment and subsequent hosiptal segment, brutality is overemphasized through overwhelmingly frenetic noise, broken up by, if not married with the occasional overly unsubtle disturbing image, and while there's still enough inspiration in Stone's atmosphere setting to keep this film's more brutal segments from going full-on "Saving Private Ryan", where it's superfluous to the point of being unintelligent and offensive (For the record, I still love "Saving Private Ryan" much more than this film, but come on Steve, I don't need to see someone trying to hold his guts in while he's crying for his mama), it's still a bit too much for you to get a terribly human feel for the horrors that people like Stone and, especially, Kovic faced. Outside of the battlefield and hospitals, the resonance goes tainted by a degree of sentimentality, both before and, certainly, after Kovic's time in 'Nam, that ranges from passable to fairly glaring. I wouldn't say that the obviousness of the emotion crushes Stone's resonance, though with the acts of sentimentality being so clear, as well as even familiar, it decidedly hurts it. Were Oliver Stone less, well, Oliver Stone in his execution of this respectably inspired project, it would have rung more true and ultimately stood as a powerhouse portrait on war and people's views, both respectful and disrespectful, on such a sensitive subject. However, the overwhelmingness of this film only bumps its effectiveness down a few notches from heart-wrenchingly piercing, and while that is enough to keep this film from being bang-pow solid, the final product has enough juice in it to stand as utterly inspiring; it's certainly aesthetically commendable.
By 1989, Robert Richardson was still reasonably new to the scene, so he hadn't yet mastered his, well, masterful cinematography skills, though he was close enough in the development of his own skill, as well as his now-notoriously remarkably comfortable collaborative relationship with Oliver Stone's tastes in style for this film to really catch your eye. Sure, Stone may exploit moments in Richardson's work to supplement the aforementioned occasional piece of overstylizing, yet on the whole, Richardson gives the film a lively grace, as well as a gripping grit that's both visually handsome and striking to the atmosphere, really powering the resonance, which wouldn't be as powerful as it is were it not for the man who admittedly kept it from being more powerful. The overambition, sentimentality and overall unsubtlty taint the effectiveness within Stone's storytelling, yet on the whole, the inspiration in Stone's direction works much more to a remarkable effect than detrimental, because whether he's capturing the pain in Ron Kovic's story or the very controversy-ridden yet still, in some spots, reasonably charmingly simple era (with the help a really good soundtrack), Stone plants you into the world and takes you through an experience that is quite decidedly bumpy, yet ultimately very rewarding. This story and its subject matter is surprisingly unique and obviously worthy, and while Stone doesn't always work his telling of such a powerful story with extreme ease, he still manages to draw much depth and humanity from both the story itself and its message, making it feel relevant and stand as immensely provocative, which of course makes the emotional resonace that does transcend the unsubtlties all the more intense. Stone's impassioned (As many times as I've heard that word used in reviews of this film, I may as well as join the craze) direction is still a little too spotty for this film to be full-on excellent, yet on the whole, it really brings it to life, though Stone doesn't doesn't take through such a compelling experience alone. Whether it be Raymond Barry's and Caroline Kava's emotion as Kovic's confused and concerned parents, or Frank Whaley's subtle anguish as a fellow veteran who had seen more than he'd care to mention, or a young Kyra Sedgwick's, well, not really having too much do other than be very pretty, many a performer grips your attention and really wins your investment, yet it's Tom Cruise who really steals the show. Ron Kovic is initially ambitious, yet upon heading into the horrors of war, he becomes a broken and disturbed man who returns home never to be the same, but instead a man with his eyes open to the flaws of the ignorant and his heart set on telling the world his tale, and it's a transformation that Cruise portrays with crushing intensity, layers, emotion and overall passion, capturing both the anguish and spirit within Kovic to a transformative degree, and it really takes your breath away to see Cruise effortlessly and phenomenally carry this character study, standing up there with Stone as one of the key components to this film's emerging both a riveting acting piece for Cruise and ultimately satisfying drama, by its own right.
Bottom line, the film gets to be rather overwhelming, both stylistically and emotionally, being tainted by the overambition, sentimentality and even a few of the conventions that land a brutal blow to the subtlty within the depth of the film, thus leaving the final product to fall short of full-on excellent, though not fall all that far, as the film catches your eye with Robert Richardson's typically handsome cinemtography and your investment with Oliver Stone's, albeit flawed, but generally commendably inspired direction, which gives you a genuine, immersive and, of course, provocative feel for this world and Kovic's story, and with a strong cast - headed by a remarkably emotional, layered and transformative Tom Cruise - serving as icing on the cake, "Born on the Fourth of July" ultimately stands as a moving and thought-provoking dramatisation of the heartbreaking story of Ron Kovic and the still fairly relevant discussion on what goes unrealized by those off of the battlefield and how the battlefield affects those who return from it.
3/5 - Good