The biography of Ron Kovic. Paralyzed in the Vietnam war, he becomes an anti-war and pro-human rights political activist after feeling betrayed by the country he fought for.
Born on the 4th of July is an interesting movie in that what it tries to present comes across as another meaning entirely. Look no further than Stoneís earlier Vietnam war film, Platoon, and you can easily guess this is an anti-war film.
The film starts with a young Ron Kovic in 1955. Heís living the all American dream as a kid, and the period is portrayed as innocent, which is appropriate, since the majority of people believe Vietnam stole Americas innocence. Kovic hits a homerun in his baseball game and is cheered, he has his first kiss with Donna during the 4th of July celebration (which is also Ron Kovicís birthday), and the veterans are respected during the parade; most notably by the young Kovic.
Tom Cruise then steps in as the high-school version of Kovic, and Kyra Sedgwick as Donna. The Vietnam war is just starting (as the majority of people begin to learn about it; the USA actually had a presence in Vietnam before it became ďVietnamĒ) and Kovic feels a compulsion to join the fight and protect his country from the spread of Communism. He wants to be revered as the vets he saw in the parade, and like his father and uncle, who served in WWII.
Marine recruiters visit his school, and he decides to enlist, but before he can go, he has to have a dance with Donna so he runs to the prom in the rain and asks her for a dance. Yes, it comes across pretty much as sappy as it sounds.
In Vietnam, two pivotal points are shown, and they are the only two parts of the actual war we see. People looking for a Platoon style of movie need not apply for this one. The first one is where his platoon opens fire on a small ville on the beach. When they go in to investigate, they discover that women and children were killed in the fire. Then the NVA (North Vietnamese Army, which is different than the VC [Viet-Cong]) moves in, causing the platoon to run. During their retreat, Kovic turns around and thinks he kills another Marine.
The other pivotal point is when Kovicís Unit is on patrol and as they approach a small ville, theyíre ambushed, with Kovic being shot in the heel and chest. Luckily he gets saved, but due to his injuries is paralyzed from the mid chest down.
When he gets home, people look at him differently. He tries to act like everythingís okay. The support of the Vietnam War has reversed and during the 4th of July parade, the vets are attacked by spectators throwing things at them. This is truly a dark period of American History, and with the world the way it is today, I feel compelled to write this: Even if you donít support the war, support the troops and show them respect. Donít let this period of history repeat itself.
Kovic visits Donna at Syracuse where the University is planning an anti-war demonstration, mainly due to the events that happened in Ohio earlier where 4 protesters were shot dead at Kent State. He goes to the rally, and the police break it up. He is pretty much ignored by Donna while heís there. When he comes home, he leashes out and wonders whoís going to love him. Itís not just his paralysis that is eating him up, but the guilt he feels for possibly killing another Marine, and quite possibly, the guilt he feels for being a part of something that everyone hates.
He retreats to Mexico where he finds other wounded vets living, including Willem Dafoe and Tom Sizemore. They all feel rejected by the country they love, served for, and wounded for, and feel more acceptance in Mexico, where they donít care if you served, but if you have money. Itís here and during a fight with Dafoe, that Kovic realizes he has to stop feeling sorry for himself and give his life a new purpose. Fight a new war if you will. Kovic then goes home and becomes an anti-war demonstrator along with many other veterans of the war and apologizes to the family of the Marine he believes he killed.
Thereís a lot of good things in this film and Tom Cruiseís performance is the first that comes to mind. For anyone that thinks Tom Cruise canít act need not look further than this movie. He is picture perfect as he pulls off an innocent high-schooler, a physically and emotionally wounded Marine still believing in his country, and an anti-war hippie. Heís also a very brave actor, which many people donít see in him. During the 80ís he was a heartthrob, and during the 90ís as well. But heís not afraid to make himself ugly in this film with long, thin, scraggly hair and a mustache that brings to mind John Holmes.
The Director of Photography is Robert Richardson, one of my favorites, so you know youíre going to get a good looking picture. The war scenes are beautiful to look at, but still conveys its use for the story. The best example of this is the first sequence in Vietnam as theyíre retreating from the Ville. The sky is blood red and hazy. A look is established to create the confusion Kovicís feels as the Marine approaches him over a sand dune, and Kovic points his rifle at him.
Stone does some great work here as well. The parallels between the protests and the war are great; showing both to be a war. Cruise is saved after being shot in the same way that he is saved at a Republican Convention where heís almost arrested. The way he portrays the guilt and pain of Kovic is also very well done. The feel and atmosphere of the film is great, most notably in the VA Hospital.
There are parts of the film that are a little much. The flashbacks towards the end and the score by John Williams feels like a sledgehammer driving home the point, but John Williams isnít exactly known for being subtle in his scores. The running time is also a little much at 145 minutes and couldíve used a few trims (even though it won the Oscar for Editing, Iím still saying it couldíve used a few snips).
I believe Stone intended to make another anti-war film with this one and tell it through the experiences of real life Ron Kovic. However, to me, Kovic comes across as an attention seeker that flip flops his beliefs and is very selfish. He goes to Vietnam because he believes in the fight, then when he gets back he feels like heís owed something more than his pension and medals. He seems very selfish in this regard. He believes the Government lied to him and other servicemen about the threat of Communism, yet no proof is shown and weíre supposed to believe this because he says so in the movie.
There are many things missing in this film, many of which are on the other side of the argument. There is no point of view for the war, and no point of view told by those that support the troops fighting and dying. There is no mention of how or why public support for the war dwindled, and no counter argument to Kovicís claim that the Vietnamese have been fighting oppression for many years against the French and Americans.
For the record, for those that donít know, North Vietnam, a Communist state, invaded South Vietnam, a Democratic state. Public support for the war dwindled during the Tet Offensive in 1968; a massive attack across the country which the Americans were able to thwart. However, because of this attack, Walter Kronkite got on the news and said the war was un-winnable, and then President Johnson announced he would not seek a second term as President.
This movie would have been much better if Kovic got his redemption at the end, meaning he finally got the respect he deserved for serving. Instead, it seems like Kovic jumps to whatever is most popular at the time. Stone fails in this regard I believe. I think it depends on how you feel about the war if youíll like this film or not. Many people donít like the Vietnam war, but donít know why; mainly because itís popular opinion. If you donít like the war, chances are youíll enjoy this movie. If youíre looking for some insight and both sides of the argument about this conflict, this movie isnít for you.