||Born on the Fourth of July
1989 - R - 145 Mins.
|Director: Oliver Stone|
|Producer: Oliver Stone|
|Written By: Oliver Stone and Ron Kovic (Novel)|
|Starring: Tom Cruise, Bryan Larkin, Kyra Sedgwick, Willem Dafoe, John C. McGinley, Oliver Stone, Ron Kovic, Daniel Baldwin, Wayne Knight, Tom Sizemore, Tom Berenger |
|Review by: John Ulmer
"Born on the Fourth of July" forms the conclusion of Oliver Stone's so-called "Vietnam Trilogy," also comprised of "Platoon" and “Heaven & Earth.”
Although it starts out very good, Stone's film soon begins to wander helplessly – and features a tiring and overwhelming anti-war message at its core that ruins the movie itself.
I believe that "Platoon" is the greatest war film ever made, and although it has a heavy anti-war cloud above its head, it's still a terrific film because the message never becomes overbearing.
The propaganda here takes away from the storytelling – it is as if Stone is using the story of Ron Kovic to simply bombard us with images and ideas and, let's be frank, occasional utter lies. "Platoon" this is not.
The story opens in the 1950s, with a young Kovic, and sets up his rather clichéd existence: naïve happy family, warm small-town community, and generally innocent surroundings. (It couldn't have all really been so peachy, could it?)
As a teenager (now played by Tom Cruise) Kovic is enticed to join the Marines, and is enlisted in the Vietnam War, where he is permanently crippled (his legs become useless and – for lack of a better description – his most fragile area is shattered).
Kovic is sent back home and, at first, pretends that everything is all right – but it isn't. He's soon swearing at his parents, breaking down in tears, yelling about the horrific images he witnessed in Vietnam, cursing America – all this leading to his own self-destruction.
Kovic's story is a true one, but it is also greatly exaggerated by Stone with his use of factual inaccuracies and manipulation of truth. Cruise's performance is one of his finest (and he was nominated for Best Actor in 1989), but both he and Stone try too hard – they take a good story and turn it into an overwhelming anti-war propaganda piece. The movie feels like it has no purpose – as if Stone is using it as an excuse to bombard us with more of his theories about warfare and how wrong it is.
War is wrong. But we can't ignore it. A movie such as "Born on the Fourth of July" takes a stab at a specific event in America's past, shaming the veterans (Kovic included) through its ignorant and naïve outlook. Stone spends so much time trying to convince us why Vietnam was a blunder, and why it was a disgrace, and why it was a horrible decision, and why Republicans are idiots (check out the grand finale outside the Republican National Convention), and why Kovic's fight for "the truth" is honorable, that he forgets to honor the vets themselves. He manipulates his audience to an extreme, using a bundle of tried-and-used film clichés to setup the Kovic character in the film. I have family members that were mentally scarred by Vietnam, but to pretend that anyone was 100% perfect before the war is silly – and Stone's use of this technique is just his own way of forcing us to feel sympathy for a shallow version of Kovic.
Vietnam was a mistake but let's not pretend that those who fought and gave their lives were pointless and useless. They deserve respect, even if the war itself doesn't – and Stone fails to realize this, making his movie an embarrassing propaganda piece without a point.