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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 31.03%
Average: 8.62%
Pretty Bad: 13.79%
Total Crap: 8.62%

3 reviews, 40 user ratings

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Born on the Fourth of July
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by Slyder

"The teen American Dream turned lifelong nightmare"
5 stars

It’s not hard to see that the Vietnam War had a profound impact on the life of director Oliver Stone. It’s that life changing event that fueled his writing and directorial creativity during his late 80’s-early 90’s apex. The Vietnam War has always had a strong presence in most of his films, whether it’s the event itself, or the brutal anguish and cynicism that flows like a sinister and dark river of themes throughout them. The Vietnam War until the mid 80s was sort of a taboo, an event that people would just rather forget, or make believe that in the end we “still won” and left marching with our heads high, or at least they strived to make themselves and us believe that. Why? Because it’s easier to believe in a blatant lie than to face the awful truth of the matter, and it is this: we lost. Several films tried their hand in Vietnam, and of course the easier selling point is the war itself, but most just used it as a background to further their own character stories. Very few, films dealt with the damage that the war did at home, how the families and the soldiers themselves felt when coming back from the jungle and into a changed world. The films that got closest to portraying that at that time were: The Deer Hunter, which followed 3 friends into the cauldron of Vietnam and were changed to the core when they returned, and Coming Home, about a volunteer nurse who becomes an angel of sorts over a tormented and paralyzed Vietnam veteran. However, it was when Oliver Stone burst into the scene in 1986 where he gave the long-untold themes of Vietnam shape and form, and he succeeded in the first step with the masterful Platoon, and during that time, he already had a second step in the making with Born on the Fourth of July, a best-selling book by renowned activist and Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic.

Stone had wanted to make the film for some time, but was never able to get the proper financing available until 1989 and with the help of Kovic on the screenplay, Stone managed to craft an incredibly powerful film about the hell that US Marines had to withstand not only in the front but at home as well. The psychological damage that war did in the States was just as devastating if not more so than the war itself. Ron Kovic was the ideal character from which to express his own rage and frustration because Kovic was also there in Vietnam, and he had to go through such physical, psychological and spiritual turmoil that no other man in their sane mind would even wish to another foe. The teaming of Stone and Kovic was pretty much a match made in heaven, for they both had a story to tell, and not a pretty one, but an important one nevertheless.

It all starts peacefully in the 1950’s, America has just triumphed with the Allies in defeating the Axis powers, we had won “the good war”, and in the town of Masapequa, Long Island in New York, a young boy by the name of Ron Kovic and his friends run into the woods to play war, slowly developing their fantasy dreams of one day becoming men and proud patriots in their own minds. This is no truer for Ron, who as the title suggests, was born in the 4th of July of 1946. The kid is a de-facto Yankee Doodle dandy, the poster child of the typical nuclear family in the United States, and a lifelong member of the Baby Boom generation. Little Ron grew up to be big Ron (Tom Cruise), the typical high school jock, heavily involved with sports, the role model for his younger brothers and sisters or so his “saintly” mom (Caroline Kava) wants them to understand. Ron had everything going for him, and he was just two steps if not one from getting the girl of his dreams, Donna (Kyra Sedgwick), even though she had already thrown herself to him on numerous occasions before when they were too young to fuck to no avail. Yet despite this, Ron wanted more: he wanted to be a hero, and a true man. Influenced by his dad (Raymond J. Barry) and his uncles who fought World War II, and President John F. Kennedy’s famous “what you can do for your country” speech, Ron wanted his own stake to claim, and when Marine recruiting NCO’s visited his school, he and a good handful of his friends as well as other kids sign up and get the news that they’d be the first regiment to be shipped to Vietnam. With the Red Scare in full swing, and the media pumping every household out there that Americans had a duty to stop communism, who couldn’t resist that?

So, Mr. Yankee Doodle dandy enlists, and goes off to fight for his country, serving two tours in Vietnam, and it was during his second tour when his all-patriotic, all gung-ho world was torn to pieces. During a beach raid, he and his squad ambush a village suspecting a possible Viet Cong arsenal dump only to find that they had accidentally shot a village full of women and children to pieces. The Viet Cong soon counter-attack, and in the ensuing fracas of retreat, Kovic accidentally shoots a private named Wilson dead. Kovic is devastated by his mistake but is kept quiet by his superior officers who want to make him forget about the incident as if it were nothing. Weeks later, his company is ambushed in an open field by well-entrenched VC riflemen. Kovic tries to play hero but instead, not only does he get his foot shot off, but he also has a chunk of spine shot out of his back as well.

Now paralyzed from the mid-chest down, Ron is now faced to endure the hell of recovery at one of the Veteran’s Administration Hospitals. Writers Stone and Kovic don’t pull any punches here, the hospital is a shitty hellhole, run by understaffed nurses and doctors who ultimately just don’t give a flying fuck about the people they’re treating or helping, and Ron is enraged at the blatant negligence and lack of respect by the nurses and orderlies. After enduring that shit infested place, Ron finally returns home to Masapequa, only to find that “home” has changed almost to the point of being unrecognizable as well, and the people that come to greet him, they do it but with a sense of sorrow, and even dread. Even his own younger brother feels sorry for him… and he opposes the war. Ron also comes back at a time when the country is deeply divided regarding the Vietnam War. Sure, there are a few patriots who still call on the duty to serve, but they are easily outnumbered by thousands more who protest the war due to it having little if no merit at all and that the soldiers should be brought back home at once. Kovic at first criticizes these people but then, as he goes to Syracuse to visit his old flame Donna, who is studying at the University and ruing on the Kent State Massacre, he begins to wonder about all of the things he was told and taught when growing up. And after yet another brawl with the police at the University’s campus, his eyes are finally opened…

War movies usually try to speak of how hellish war is when it is fought in the battlefield, and it is. It’s the last place any sane man would dare to be; and it’s just draining the way it shows you how war “turns people into dogs and poisons the soul” as Terrence Malick would say via The Thin Red Line, but yet despite the powerful effect that war movies have, few of them have ever pondered the question of the effects of war back home and how it changes people, the soldiers included. How can a soldier discuss with his family about the horrible things that he did or that he witnessed back in the front? It begs for the questioning of the soul, and it’s a soul search that could easily implode a man into a thousand pieces. I guess despite this, a soldier can still take these hits and move on and try to pick up where his life left off. However, nothing is more devastating than believing in something that you thought was true and was right, but it ultimately was nothing but a con job and a lie, and under the all-engrossing flag of patriotism, you ultimately were used as nothing more than a pawn and a shill. And that all your physical and mental sacrifices only served to further and satisfy a higher power’s own personal and political agenda. That’s right; you were nothing more than a tool, a doormat, a crowbar (like an IMDb user said). It is at this moment that Ron begins his descent towards rock bottom, and it’s a painful and heart-wrenching one because he suddenly realizes all that was taken from him: his life as he once knew it, his legs, and his manhood. His desire to be a full-bodied man again is met with nothing more than crushing disappointment.

People have criticized Tom Cruise for being all looks and no depth, and rightly so, since his usual routine consists of being on fire one minute and turn into a flat piece of paper on the next. But here, Cruise manages to embody a character torn and tormented by the lies he was fed to, and brings to him an amazing range of depth that it’s almost frightening as it is sad and gut-wrenching to watch. At no point does he flinch, and at no point does he do his usual “blank stare” and takes you out off the bandwagon; he’s completely believable every step of the way.

Ron’s journey of almost “Dante-like” proportions is like watching a train-wreck that you can’t help but watch. His flight to Mexico seems like a last gasp escape towards finding the man he once was, only to finally hit rock bottom, and start rebuilding oneself, his pride, self-esteem, and to finally start putting his long-accompanying demons to rest. Some people have been taken aback by these scenes, and yes they are depressing to watch, but despite the utter shit that we see that Ron had to endure, the movie is in the end, uplifting in the sense that despite his sufferings, Ron had to pick himself up and decide what do with his life and from then on, continue to do the best he could and inform and teach people of what he saw and in order for them to raise consciousness and hopefully prevent the same things that screwed his life up from screwing someone else’s. Ron does this by suddenly becoming the main crusader for the rights of Vietnam veterans and a spokesperson for peace.

Despite the world-knowledge of the man, the film may feel somewhat incomplete as it ends in a rather blank note, as he rolls into the Democratic National Convention to deliver his message of peace, but it is fairly acceptable since Stone’s intention was for Ron’s actions and the suffering he had to endure to speak for themselves and let them take the story and make the point. Including a speech or a monologue would’ve been seen as obvious.

Full credit has to go to Oliver Stone and to Ron Kovic for doing this film. This harrowing story, despite its unpleasantness, was a story that needed to be told, and I’m glad that this movie has done it justice. The movie is unquestionably a slice of reality served raw, for it shows what the people from the Baby Boom generation that enlisted to fight the Vietnam War had to endure, going off to fight in some foreign country with dreams of heroism only to return crippled and damaged forever. And reality for these handicapped veterans was hellish, because unlike in Coming Home where you had Jane Fonda take care of your manhood and your feelings and all that sugar-coated horseshit, they more often than not had to carve themselves with their own hands out of the hellhole they had fallen into, and continue with some sort of life and peace of mind in the remaining years.

On the technical side of the film, Stone shows how much he has matured as a director, for he displays impressive range and flexibility, able to balance tender moments with horrifying ones and rarely does his vision waver, as he remains focused regarding the points he makes in the film. His approach to realism is for the most part spot on, although the depressing tone in some scenes may put off some viewers. Another big chunk of credit also has to go to Stone’s right hand man, Robert Richardson. He shoots the movie with an ever changing set of colors. From the celebratory, happy, innocent and cool colors from Ron’s youth, he then suddenly dims all the color to a bright, burning red as Ron enters Vietnam, and his camera becomes a maddening, dizzying sight, as he captures the madness of battle, as soldiers try to attack and then fend off an elusive enemy that seems to appear and vanish in plain sight. The madness becomes such that you feel it within your bones and you simply don’t know who’s who anymore, only that if it moves, you shoot at it. When he comes back home, the film changes to a rather dry and nostalgic tone and the beauty of his work, along with the script is that, you’re never at peace with it. You long in your heart for Ron’s life to be normal again, yet despite this, what you watch on the screen simply speaks to your mind that it just can’t happen. When Kovic goes to Mexico, the camera view goes red once again as it reflects Kovic’s own personal Hell that he has to fight through, and when he comes back up until the final reel, Richardson adds a shade of clear colors, in order to show Ron’s slow but steady move towards clarity and regain of self-esteem, and a determination of putting his most troublesome burdens to rest. This film is truly an excellent piece of work.

Though the Bush era might be over, and therefore the urgent need of watching movies like this is quieting down, that is still no excuse to simply forget about this movie as a means to make people understand that the same old lies that had been used in the past are still being regurgitated now in our times just to serve the usual political agendas at the expense of a young lad’s life, limb and his own ignorance. Born in the Fourth of July stands as a solid reminder about how precious life is and how could it be torn apart and the huge cost that it takes to get over it and move on. One always wishes for the happiest and greatest life one could ever dream of having, I know I have. Yet it never turns out that way, and sometimes, all it takes is a sugar-coated lie for our dreams to turn into life-long nightmares. If only things didn’t have to turn out to be that way… 4.5-5

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originally posted: 01/11/10 09:27:24
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell impressive but depressing 4 stars
5/06/13 Tammy This movie is awesome and Tom Cruise is the best actor. 5 stars
8/24/12 roscoe good, but is patch work. cuts from one part of his life to the next without connecting 4 stars
9/27/11 sake02mo love that movie 5 stars
7/25/11 Quigley One of Cruise's greatest roles. He is a great actor and this film will always be a reminder 5 stars
10/23/10 Stormy Rockweather PENIS! PENIS! PENIS! 4 stars
5/02/10 Amy Green Why can't Tom Cruise do more movies as good as this one? Plus, love Edie Brickell's song. 4 stars
3/10/10 Richard Brandt Like most patriotic dreams, left blown up on some far-flung battlefield 5 stars
1/25/10 Chad Dillon Cooper Great film about Vietnam. True story . 5 stars
8/21/09 Jeff Wilder Like Platoon very effective. But difficult to watch more than once. 4 stars
5/04/08 mr.mike Held my interest till the last half hour 4 stars
9/25/07 mark one great film that is very important because it tells the truth 5 stars
11/14/06 action movie fan left wing propaganda but an interesting true story that moved--much better than platton or 4 stars
5/16/06 bmac solid. not good but solid 3 stars
11/08/05 noops this is the truth of vietnam war 4 stars
8/06/05 Richard Simmons anti-american POS... 1 stars
11/02/04 J bird awsome war film to follow stones "platoon" 5 stars
5/15/04 cynthia suxs..its totalli crap..dun make sense, camera kept moving, couln't see a shit 1 stars
11/29/03 Jaron background colors are a little confusing, but still a very good film!! 4 stars
1/23/03 Pinkline Jones Born on the 4th July - Who Cares! Steffi born 14 June 69 1 stars
1/13/03 Jack Sommersby Overblown, overstated, and just plain overbearing. 1 stars
7/27/02 I Can't Swim His wig aside, Tom's best effort. He creates a person, not a type. Dafoe good too 5 stars
7/04/02 Charles Tatum The world according to Oliver Stone 3 stars
3/12/02 KMG Suck my titties.... 3 stars
8/09/01 E-Funk Intriguing, important film about the horrors of post-vietnam life. Oliver Stone delivers. 5 stars
6/30/01 Cynthia Perna I felt like I was wading through a sewer. You couldn't pay me to watch this film again. 2 stars
4/01/01 Jesse L more heavy handed cliches from oliver stone... 1 stars
2/17/01 jk penis penis penis penis !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
2/04/01 homer simpson it teaches the young folks about how the world was during the 1970's 4 stars
1/01/01 Msitrab Oliver Stone is a genious 5 stars
11/28/00 Cristopher Revilla a great movie, one of stones best, (cept for that sex scene) 5 stars
11/04/00 viking an over long glorification of self-pity. 3 stars
10/12/00 Bruce Another Oliver Stone masterpiece 5 stars
10/05/00 The REAL Game 3:16 * * * * (out of * * * *) Brilliant Movie; I Rarely Well Up in Tears on Movies, this I did. 5 stars
9/09/00 Elvisfan Tom is great but all Oliver Stones movies feature the LOUSIEST wigs!! 5 stars
3/25/00 Richard Wright A biopic that keeps you watching, but a bit less melodrama would have gone a long way. 3 stars
2/13/00 Greek1111111 The impact is viscerally emotional 5 stars
7/04/99 J-Dogg WHAT? Stone's films are all magnificent (cept "Nixon"). I hated the ending though. 4 stars
3/25/99 James Coffey One of Oliver Stone's worst movies 2 stars
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  20-Dec-1989 (R)
  DVD: 19-Oct-2004


  02-Feb-1990 (M)

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