Thursday, March 29, 2012
Movie Review: Born On The Fourth Of July (1989)
The story of Vietnam war veteran turned peace activist Ron Kovic, Born On The Fourth Of July asks all the right questions about a sordid conflict and the reasons for war. Director Oliver Stone carves a compelling human drama that encapsulates the struggle of a nation to understand its role in the world.
By 1967 Kovic is on his second tour of duty in Vietnam, where he witnesses US troops slaughtering innocent villagers, and in a chaotic gunfight, he inadvertently kills a fellow marine. Caught in a fire fight on open ground, Kovic is shot through the spine and heroically saved by a fellow soldier under fire. He endures a harrowing recuperation at a filthy veteran's hospital before returning home, permanently paralysed from the waist down.
Tom Cruise gives one of his most accomplished performances as Ron Kovic, carrying the film single-handedly and deservedly earning an Academy Award nomination. From the bright-eyed, short-haired teenager eager to be among the first wave of marines landing on the shores of Vietnam to the jaded, damaged, depressed, angry, long-haired, guilt-stricken and wheelchair-bound anti-war protester, Cruise captures what it means to survive the war but lose part of the body and all of the innocence.
While Kovic's journey is certainly epic, Born On The Fourth Of July as a movie suffers from the lack of any other major counterweight characters. Berenger and Dafoe add little other than curiosity by reuniting with their Platoon director. Sedgwick is game but has the slightest of roles, while the likes of Frank Whaley as Kovic's friend and Raymond J. Barry as Mr. Kovic drift in and out of the story leaving only local impressions.
As much as Born On The Fourth Of July is the story of one man, it is also a reflection of a country undergoing a remarkable transformation in one decade. From a position of invincibility to a humiliating defeat, and from blind patriotism to more thoughtful questioning of foreign policy, Ron Kovic holds up a mirror to the United States, and the view is one of both horror and hope.
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