‘Born on the Fourth of July’
Starring: Tom Cruise, Raymond J. Barry, and Caroline Kava
Running time: 145 minutes
Rated: R for sex and nudity, violence and gore, profanity, alcohol/drugs/smoking, and frightening/intense scenes.
Friday is Independence Day, a time to celebrate everything it means to be American.
But what does it mean to be patriotic? Is it unquestionable allegiance, standing up for what you believe or the willingness to fight and die for what you believe in?
This the primary question “Born on the Fourth of July” tries to answer, and it does in a convincing way.
Based on a true story, the 1989 movie focuses on Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise), a Marine veteran paralyzed from the chest down during the Vietnam War. The story targets his struggles after coming home, where he feels marginalized by the American public. Kovic ultimately transforms into an anti-war activist.
“Born on the Fourth of July” has everything I usually dislike in movies. It has too many dramatic scenes with little room to breathe. Plus, it is sometimes disjointed, an aspect that seems to plague many biographical films.
Despite its flaws, however, it brought me to tears on several occasions. And in the end, I was glad I watched it.
The movie opens with Kovic’s childhood. He was the oldest son of a large Catholic family in the small town of Massapequa, N.Y. These early scenes are full of patriotic symbolism, such as a boisterous Fourth of July parade and a young Kovic playing war in the woods with his friends. So much symbolism, in fact, it becomes tiresome.
Kovic, a red-blooded American boy in every sense, is eventually persuaded by a Marine recruiting officer to join the military and fight the communists in Vietnam.
The portrayal of Kovic’s stint in Vietnam is relatively brief, but it manages to touch on nearly every horror of war: the accidental killing of civilian women and children, a friendly fire incident and the brutal wounding of Kovic himself, who suffered a shot through his shoulder severing his spinal cord.
Until this point, much of the movie feels forced, but the remaining scenes make up for it. Kovic, an athlete before the war, languishes away in deplorable conditions at a veterans hospital. He spends months trying, and failing, to walk again. Later Kovic returns home, resigned to wheelchair for the rest of his life.
At first, Kovic is outraged by anti-war protesters and speaks publicly in support of the war. As time goes on, he suffers flashbacks and the true reality of his situation sets in. He sinks into alcoholism and flees to Mexico, where he meets Charlie (Willem Dafoe), another paralyzed veteran.
The two descend into debauchery, drinking heavily and frequenting prostitutes. After becoming stranded in the desert with Charlie and arguing over how many civilians the two had to kill in Vietnam, Kovic reaches an emotional realization. He then returns home to protest the war.
After a series of protests and arrests, Kovic becomes a national figure. The film ends with an appropriately emotional scene of him preparing to speak at the 1976 Democratic National Convention after the publication of his autobiography.
“Born on the Fourth of July” was a directed by Oliver Stone, who also directed the 1986 Vietnam War classic “Platoon.” The film also was scored by John Williams, better known for composing music for films such as the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” series. For the most part, the duo manage to craft amazing scenes.
“Born on the Fourth of July” is a fantastic movie with a different take on what it means to be American. At times, it is overly dramatic and rushed, but ultimately it is fulfilling to watch.
It is available on Amazon Instant Video for $2.99 to rent and $9.99 to own.
Andrew Akers is a columnist for The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.