Born on the Fourth of July

Born on the Fourth of July

(Oliver Stone, 1989)

Rating: 4.5/5

Reviewed by Dave Lancaster

Summary: Tom Cruise's first truly great role as paralysed Vietnam vet Ron Kovic is handled brilliantly by Oliver Stone on Oscar winning form. Undeniably powerful.


Of Oliver Stone's loosely threaded Vietnam trilogy, (the others being 'Platoon' and 'Heaven and Earth'), 'Born on the Fourth of July' retains its power the most. Stone picked relative newcomer Tom Cruise at just the right point in his career, when he was an A-lister but also when he was an actor who hadn't truly proven his range (aside from his remarkable turn in 'Rain Man').

Cruise, who bagged his first Oscar nomination, is perfect as the naïve God-fearing Ron Kovic who blindly signs up to go to Vietnam. Injured and subsequently paralyzed from the waist down, Kovic sees true horror in the battlefield, but the film is more interested in the coming home.

The injured vets aren't seen as the heroes they are; instead they're cast aside as if America wants to ignore their contribution in a controversial war. The anti-war movement resents their call to arms. Cruise isn't the obvious choice to play an outsider, a man who is hated and weakened, but his work here is incredible. (Interestingly, Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe, the two warring stars of 'Platoon' have small roles here again playing polar opposites in the same army)

Stone charts Kovic's disintegration towards booze and prostitutes with stark reality and a lack of pretentious audacity which marked his later work. In 'Platoon' you could feel that Stone had a tour of Vietnam. With 'Born on the Fourth of July', you know he's been trying to get over it ever since. 'Platoon' is immediate with its pain, but this cuts deeper takes us further.

 

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