Published on March 19th, 2009 | by Chris0
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Born on the Fourth of July is Oliver Stone's second entry in his "Vietnam Trilogy" (Platoon, Heavan and Earth) and in my opinion, is the most powerful of the three. In fact, I would say it's even more relevant to today than any of them, and maybe that's why.
While Platoon seems a bit cliche for my tastes (but still good), and Heaven and Earth is just too preachy (and other reasons, but also still good), Fourth of July makes a strong statement about the sacrifice the veterans of Vietnam made, and the struggles they endured after they came home.
Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) is your average all-american boy from Long Island, instilled with a strong sense of patriotism and a need to do what is right. It's this which drives him to enlist, and of course, is sent off to fight in Vietnam. He's critically injured, and winds up confined to a wheelchair. From there he has to come to terms with, well, everything. Everything from reconciling his condition, the things he did and saw in Vietnam, re-examining his patriotism, and just plain getting through it. Eventually he ends up a part of the anti-war movement, speaking at the 1976 Miami Democratic national convention.
The first part of the film simply builds up Ron Kovic's character, and while it does run on a bit, it is necessary to contrast what he becomes later. The "All American Family(tm)" he comes from is probably typical, and the picture that is painted is one I think most of us can relate to.
His world changes, though, as he takes part in a raid on a village that kills civilians, and he himself kills one of his own in the heat of battle, and has to live with that guilt. Then he's shot, paralyzing him from the chest down, and spends time in terrible conditions in a VA hospital. From there he goes home, and has to deal with how everyone else deals with him, including his kid brother who doesn't share his patriotic views.
He quickly spirals into depression and alcoholism, causing no end of grief for his family and others around him. Coming to terms with the fact that he'll never walk (among other things) again, sends him off of the deep end, basically.
Eventually Kovic winds up in Mexico, in a sort of community for other disabled vets. Thinking he's found a home, he realizes that everyone else is just as messed up as he is. After a humorous and sad event which leaves him stranded, he come back to the states, and finds his old girlfriend (Kyra Sedgwick) who is part of the anti-war movement. He comes to realize that he can make a difference at last.
OK, so maybe the film is a bit too long, but it is well worth it. Cruise pulls off a fine performance, and really everyone else is relegated to supporting roles of various kinds. But what's the point of it all? Part of it is Stone asking for some respect for these guys, part of it hints at the sacrifice they and their families endured, part of it leans heavily toward the anti-war slant.
I especially found it relevant given the events of today, where we get reports of veteran's hospitals being closed due to dreadful conditions. I couldn't help but think of that as Kovic lies upside down in traction staring at a pile of his own puke. Has anything really changed in the system? At least the public view towards today's veterans has changed, but I don't think the government really has, and that's a shame.
Some other reviews I've read blast Born on the Fourth of July for being a bit oversimplistic, just too long, or various other things. While that might be true, I don't think it hurts it any at all. In fact, I'd hazard to say it's because of these things that it excels. It doesn't try to sneak its meanings under the table like Platoon, it just paints a clear understandable picture.
The only real trouble I had with it was the ending. I dunno, it just didn't seem to really resolve anything. So he speaks to a large group of people making a difference like his mother dreamed about.... but at what cost? And for what gain?
Summary: Born on the Fourth of July is Oliver Stone's second entry in his "Vietnam Trilogy" (Platoon, Heavan and Earth) and in my opinion, is the most powerful of the three. In fact, I would say it's even more relevant to today than any of them, and maybe that's why.