Monday, July 4, 2016

Movie Review: "Born on the Fourth of July" (1989)

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Movie"Born on the Fourth of July"
Year Nominated: 1990
Director: Oliver Stone
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 25 minutes
Did It Win?: No.

The life story of Ron Kovik (Tom Cruise), from the days where he was a gung-ho kid with aspirations of being in the military to when he became a United States marine serving in Vietnam. The story also follows his post-war status as a disabled veteran to his eventual change into an anti-war activist. 

Directed by Oliver Stone, "Born on the Fourth of July" is based on a book by Ron Kovik, played here by Tom Cruise, who also helped pen the screenplay alongside Stone. This biopic tells Kovik's life story between 1956 and 1976. "Born on the Fourth of July" sets the stage early on to show how Kovik had been all about America since he was a child, watching John F. Kenndey's inaugural address on television with his family. As a youthful patriot with the mindset that if you don't love America, you can leave it, we quickly learn this wide-eyed ambitious teenager has dreams of saving the world from communism and is more than willing to do all he can to stop it. Either right after high school or right when he turns 18, Kovik enlists in the military as a Marine and is sent to the front lines of the war in Vietnam. After two tours of service, his platoon is involved in a heavy firefight with enemy combatants. Kovik is severely wounded multiple times and as a result, becomes paralyzed from the middle of his chest down. He is then transferred to a veterans hospital where the conditions are just awful. Rats roam freely on the floors, which are also often covered in blood, feces, and vomit, and the doctors and other staff are either absent or visit infrequently. Still, determined as ever, Ron attempts to walk again with the use of assistance aids, but a stumble and subsequent broken bone leads him to a permanent residency in a wheelchair. After he leave the veterans hospital, he tries to return to his childhood home, only to discover his town is completely changed and doesn't care about those who served in Vietnam. This leads him to the period in his life where he was a cynical disabled veteran, mad at the world and the government for bringing America to a country where it had no business being in the first place. As time goes on and as Kovik gets more disgruntled, he eventually falls into actively protesting the war, and really the entire country, he once so adamantly defended.

Tom Cruise's performance as Ron Kovik is one of his finest. Though Cruise has almost always been a consistently good actor, here, he is simply tremendous in this arduous part. Kovik is a very layered character with an compelling arc, and Cruise is able to showcase a wide range of emotions in this enthralling part. To no one's surprise, Cruise was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance, but lost to Daniel Day-Lewis that year, and really, if you had to lose a major award to someone, don't you want it to be to the best? Cruise did manage to take home the Golden Globe, which is a decent consolation prize. Cruise wasn't the only one earning recognition for his efforts here as "Born on the Fourth of July" was nominated for total of eight Oscars, including best picture, and Oliver Stone himself took home the statue for best director. These politically-minded films, especially those involving the Vietnam war, are a trademark of Stone's as his experiences in the military aid him in telling an authentic story.

The story itself is quite gripping as it covers a wide range of topics including how the U.S. military often used propaganda to bombard young people into helping up their recruitment numbers. It also show the mentality of many young men who volunteered to go to Vietnam as they idolized WWII war veterans and hoped for that kind of glory when they returned home from war, too. Then, there are the graphic depictions of the war itself and how civilians were often killed in horrific manners. Finally, it also shows how death by friendly fire happened from time to time, and the subsequent reaction by the higher-ups in dealing with that kind of issue. From the battlefield, Stone moves on to addressing the poor conditions of the VA hospitals because of lack of funding by the very government that put soldiers there in the first place, as well as how post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects combat veterans long after they have left the fog of battle. Lastly, Stone comments on the anti-war movement and how many veterans found themselves alongside the protesters they never thought they'd march with.

There are moments in this film that are extremely hard to watch, but Oliver Stone's expert directing and storytelling manage to keep you engaged across its very well pace 145 minute run time. Tom Cruise's performance alone is worth watching here, but it matters even more for its social, political, and cultural significance when it comes to the American government, the wars we fight, and how we treat our veterans once they return home from battle. Some of the issues Stone addressed in the late 80's are still going on in the mid-2010's, and it's scary to see how much has not changed in 27 years.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 9/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 90%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!
One year ago, we were watching: "The Patriot"

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