Born on the Fourth of July

Does anyone else find it funny that Tom Cruise, whose birthday is the third of July, starred in a film called Born on the Fourth of July? No? Just me then.
Olive Stone is one of those film makers that I don’t really get. I’m not that much of a Platoon fan, nor can I say I have any affiliation with Wall Street. Natural Born Killers has it’s moments, and I can’t remember a single scene of Any Given Sunday, though I saw it less than 2 years ago. Other than that, I haven’t seen anything he’s made, though my hopes are up for JFK, whenever I eventually get around to seeing it. Born on the Fourth of July seems like a typical Stone movie, in that it comes deeply ingrained with a message (war is hell and will mess you up), and though at first glance it may seem patriotic, if you look a little deeper it’s really a chance for Stone to voice his own personal feelings about his country.
Tom Cruise is Ron Kovic,who growing up in 1950’s Long Island idolised the war heroes in the Independence Day parades. He looked past the wheelchair, crutches and missing limbs, seeing only the glory and patriotism of being a hero. Kovic spent his school years working hard and being committed to being the best, and after his wrestling attempts didn’t quite work out, he responded positively to a presentation from the US Marine Corps, and signs up with a few buddies, including Stephen Baldwin.The scenes of Kovic’s childhood are shot with a hazy, wholesome, rose-tinted nostalgia, and his family, especially his mother, are all very supportive of Ron’s decision to head to Vietnam and fight for his country, and die there if he has to. The era is well realised – particularly though the soundtrack, as Ron’s brother learns Bob Dylan on the guitar – and the TV broadcasts, with Kennedy’s “What you can do” speech seemingly speaking directly to Kovic.

After signing up and heading to war, the action skips straight over boot camp and the green-horn period – Stone covered all that in Platoon three years earlier – and drops us straight into the now Sergeant Kovic’s Second tour of Vietnam in 1967. These sequences are atmospheric and well-realised, but they’re less impressive than almost any other war film. It’s a good thing then that this film isn’t really aiming to show an accurate, visceral depiction of warfare, instead focusing on the disillusionment of volunteers, the effects that warfare can have on those who fight it, and the disconnect between the soldiers and the families they’ve left behind. For when Ron is discharged – in a wheelchair, with the promise that he’ll never use his legs again (though his main concern is being able to use what is between those legs) – he discovers that his brother doesn’t believe in the war, and his friends that stayed home became prosperous and affluent, whilst he had everything taken away from him.

The cats is full of familiar faces from anyone who’s watched Platoon – alongside Tom Berenger’s Marine recruiter is Willem Dafoe’s similarly paralysed veteran, and John C. McGinley turns up for a very small role (as do Wayne Knight and Tom Sizemore).

The film takes a very long time (145 minutes) to put across some fairly simple ideas. The first 90 minutes are thoroughly predictable, and there were very few surprises in the last hour either. Tom Cruise isn’t bad in the role, but as ever he always does better when he isn’t front and centre (Magnolia, Tropic Thunder), and I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was desperately pursuing an Oscar. Though he was nominated, it’s no surprise that it went instead to Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot, and I’d still have been happy had it gone to fellow nominees Robin Williams or Morgan Freeman, for Dead Poet’s Society or Driving Miss Daisy, instead of Cruise.

It’s worth watching if you’re a Stone or Cruise completist, but there’s little new here, and what there is still won’t surprise, or impress you.

Choose life 5/10

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3 thoughts on “Born on the Fourth of July

  1. I was trying to find your email address here but couldn’t locate it. Can you please contact me at: alyson [at] ftframes.comIt is regarding a writing opportunity!This is not a spam message (in case it appears so).

  2. I've got to disagree on Cruise's performance in this. I feel it is the best one he has had in his career. The real Ron Kovic was so thankful for Cruise's performance that he gave him one of his medals.

  3. I normally don't have a problem with Cruise, at least not as much as everyone else seems to, but here I felt he was stretching higher than he could reach. He proved better than I was expecting, if that's any consolation.

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