Born on the Fourth of July (film)
|Born on the Fourth of July|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Oliver Stone|
|Produced by||A. Kitman Ho
|Written by||Oliver Stone
Raymond J. Barry
|Music by||John Williams|
|Editing by||Joe Hutshing
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Running time||145 minutes|
Tom Cruise plays Ron Kovic, in a performance that earned him his first Academy Award nomination. Oliver Stone (himself a Vietnam veteran) co-wrote the screenplay with Kovic, and also produced and directed the film. Stone wanted to film the movie in Vietnam, but because relations between the United States and Vietnam had not yet been normalized, it was instead filmed in the Philippines. The film is considered part of Stone's "trilogy" of films about the Vietnam War—following Platoon (1986) and preceding Heaven & Earth (1993).
Born on the Fourth of July was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Film Editing. The film was a critical and commercial success, grossing $161,001,698 worldwide and winning two Academy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards and a Directors Guild of America Award.
The film begins with Ron Kovic's childhood during a summer in Massapequa, New York. He plays war in the woods, attends a Fourth of July parade, plays and wins at a local neighborhood baseball game, and watches President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address, which later inspires him to enlist in the Marines.
After Ron Kovic and his classmates hear an impassioned lecture about the Marine Corps, Ron decides to enlist. He misses his prom because he is unable to secure a date with his love interest, Donna. He confronts her at the prom and has a dance with her on his last night before leaving.
The film then moves to Kovic's second Vietnam tour in October 1967. Now a Marine sergeant and on patrol, his unit kills a number of Vietnamese civilians in a village, believing them to be enemy combatants. During the retreat, Kovic becomes disoriented and accidentally shoots one of the new arrivals to his platoon, a younger Marine private first class, named Wilson. Despite the frantic efforts of the Navy Corpsmen present who try to save him, Wilson later dies from his wounds, leaving a deep impression on Kovic. Overwhelmed by guilt, Kovic appeals to his executive officer (XO), who merely tells him to forget the incident. The meeting has a negative effect on Ron, who is crushed at being brushed off by his XO.
The platoon goes out on another hazardous patrol in January 1968. During a firefight, Kovic is critically wounded and trapped in a field facing sure death, until a fellow Marine rescues him. Paralyzed from the mid-chest down, he spends several months recovering at the Bronx Veterans Administration hospital. The hospital living conditions are deplorable: rats crawl freely on the floors, the staff is generally apathetic to their patients' needs, doctors visit the patients infrequently, drug use is rampant (among both the staff and patients), and equipment is too old and ill-maintained to be useful. He desperately tries to walk again with the use of crutches and braces, despite repeated warnings from his doctors. However, he soon suffers a bad fall that causes a compound fracture of his femur. The injury nearly robs him of his leg, and he vehemently argues with the doctors who briefly consider resorting to amputation.
In 1969, Ron returns home, permanently in a wheelchair, with his leg intact. From the start, he notices how all his family and friends treat him differently now that he is paralyzed. He begins to alienate them, complaining about students staging anti-war rallies across the country and burning the American flag. Though he tries to maintain his dignity as a Marine, Ron gradually becomes disillusioned, feeling the effects of his paralysis on his life, and realizes that all the things he was taught from birth, like honor, patriotism, and courage, were illusions which he would give up any day to get his legs back. In Ron's absence, his younger brother Tommy has already become staunchly anti-war, remarking to Ron directly in his face what the war had done to him, leading to a rift between them. His highly religious mother also seems unable to deal with Ron's new attitude as a resentful, paralyzed veteran. His problems are as much psychological as they are physical and he quickly becomes alcoholic and belligerent. During an Independence Day parade, he shows signs of post-traumatic stress when firecrackers explode and when a baby in the crowd starts crying. He reunites with his old high school friend, Timmy Burns, who is also a wounded veteran, and the two spend Ron's birthday sharing war stories. Later, Ron goes to visit Donna at her college in Syracuse, New York. The two reminisce and she asks him to attend a vigil for the victims of the Kent State shootings. However, he cannot do so, because his chair prevents him from getting very far on campus because of curbs and stairways. He and Donna are separated after she and her fellow students are captured and taken away by the police at her college for demonstrating a protest against the Vietnam War.
After returning home drunk one night after having a barroom confrontation with a World War II veteran who expresses no sympathy to Ron, Ron's disillusionment grows severe enough that he has an intense fight with his mother, yelling at her that there was no God, and that they murdered civilians in Vietnam in disregard of Christian morals. Ron travels to a small town in Mexico ("The Village of the Sun") that seems to be a haven for paralyzed Vietnam veterans. He has his first sexual experience with a prostitute he believes he's in love with. Ron wants to ask her to marry him but when he sees her with another customer, the realization of real love versus a mere physical sexual experience sets in, and he decides against it. Hooking up with another wheelchair-bound veteran, Charlie, who is furious over a prostitute's mocking his lack of sexual function due to his paralysis, the two travel to what they believe will be a friendlier village. After annoying their taxicab driver, they end up stranded on the side of the road. They quarrel and fight about what each of them had really done in Vietnam, knocking each other out of their wheelchairs. Eventually, they are picked up by a man with a truck and eventually driven back to the "Village of the Sun". On his way back to Long Island, Ron makes a side trek to Georgia to visit the parents and family of Wilson, the Marine he accidentally killed during his tour. He tells them the real story about how their son died and confesses his guilt to them. Wilson's widow, now the mother of the deceased Marine's toddler son, admits that she cannot find it in her heart to forgive him for killing her husband, but adds that maybe God can. Wilson's parents, however, are more forgiving and even sympathetic to his predicament and suffering, because Wilson's father fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II and is disillusioned with the war in Vietnam. In spite of the mixed reactions he receives, the confession seems to lift a heavy weight from Ron's conscience.
Ron joins Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and travels to the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami. He and his compatriots force their way into the convention hall during Richard Nixon's acceptance speech and cause a commotion that makes it onto the national news. Ron himself tells a reporter about his negative experiences in Vietnam and the VA hospital conditions, that the Vietnam war is wrong, and tells him that the Vietnamese people are a proud people fighting against the US for their independence, fueling rage from the surrounding Nixon supporters. His interview is cut short when guards eject him and his fellow vets from the hall and attempt to turn them over to the police. They manage to break free from the police, regroup, and charge the hall again, though not so successfully this time. The film ends with Kovic's speaking at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, shortly after the publication of his autobiography, Born on the Fourth of July.
- Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic
- Raymond J. Barry as Eli Kovic
- Caroline Kava as Mrs. Kovic
- Josh Evans as Tommy Kovic
- Frank Whaley as Timmy Burns
- Jerry Levine as Steve Boyer
- Kyra Sedgwick as Donna
- Rob Camilletti as Tommy Finelli
- Stephen Baldwin as Billy Vorsovich
- Tom Berenger as GySgt. Hayes
- Willem Dafoe as Charlie
- John Getz as Marine Major - Vietnam
- Cordelia González as María Elena
- Holly Marie Combs as Jenny
- Vivica A. Fox as Hooker in VA hospital
- Wayne Knight as Official #2 - Democratic Convention
- James LeGros as Platoon - Vietnam
- Ed Lauter as Legion Commander
- R. D. Call as Chaplain - Vietnam
Oliver Stone, also a Vietnam veteran, read Ron Kovic's best-selling autobiography Born on the Fourth of July and was stunned to learn what Kovic had suffered after the war. He bought the rights to the autobiography, and wanted to make it into a film. After buying the rights, Stone had to find a distributor for the film. Stone offered the project to Universal Pictures and they accepted. Stone then had to find a producer for the film. Eventually, he along with A. Kitman Ho became the producers. Tom Cruise was cast as Ron Kovic while Stone directed. Stone met with Ron Kovic and they discussed their experiences in Vietnam. Kovic wrote the screenplay with Stone, and appears in the film himself during the opening parade sequence as a soldier who flinches at the sound of exploding firecrackers—a reflex Cruise's Kovic will adopt himself later in the film.
Stone wanted to film the movie in Vietnam, but since the relationship between Vietnam and the United States had not been resolved, Stone decided instead to film it in the Philippines (where Stone had previously filmed Platoon). Other scenes which do not include combat, were filmed in the U.S., particularly Dallas, Texas. The film was cinematographer Robert Richardson's first experience shooting in the anamorphic format. Of the stars he worked with in this film, Stone worked again with both Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe, who originally starred in Platoon. Another star, Frank Whaley, would join Stone for the 1991 films The Doors and JFK.
The film was released on December 22, 1989, grossing $766,942 during its opening week. Over the course of its second week, the film grossed $1,464,345. At its third week of release it grossed $5,343,453 ranking #1 at the box office. The film remained in the number one position up until its sixth week of release. The film stayed in the #11 position of the top ten grossing films of 1990 until its last week of release. The film grossed $70,001,698 domestically and $161,001,698 worldwide, significantly surpassing its $14 million budget.
The reviews of the film were extremely positive. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a score of 90% of positive reviews by critics, based on 37 reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars. Metacritic reported that the film had an average score of 75 out of 100. The New York Times says: "It is a film of enormous visceral power with, in the central role, a performance by Tom Cruise that defines everything that is best about the movie." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says: "Stone has found Cruise the ideal actor to anchor the movie with simplicity and strength. Together they do more than show what happened to Kovic. Their fervent, consistently gripping film shows why it still urgently matters." Many critics also praised Tom Cruise's performance and Oliver Stone's direction of the film. Stone would later be awarded with an Oscar and a Golden Globe for directing while Tom Cruise received the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.
Notable critics who gave the film negative reviews include Jonathan Rosenbaum, who said: "[T]he movie's conventional showbiz finale, brimming with false uplift, implies that the traumas of other mutilated and disillusioned Vietnam veterans can easily be overcome if they write books and turn themselves into celebrities." Hal Hinson of the Washington Post called the film "hysterical and overbearing and alienating." Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times wrote: "[T]he director has lost the specificity that made Platoon so electrifying. In its place he uses bombast, overkill, bullying."
Awards and nominations
The film was released on VHS in 1990 and on DVD in 1998. The DVD contains commentary by director Oliver Stone. The special edition DVD was released on October 19th, 2004. The DVD contains commentary with Director Oliver Stone and the original NBC documentary of the making of Born on the Fourth of July. In 2007, the film was released on the HD DVD format. On September 1, 2011 Universal Australia released the film on Blu-ray Disc. It was released in the US on July 3, 2012.
- "Born on the Fourth of July (1989)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
- Vincent Canby (1989-12-20). "How an All-American Boy Went to War and Lost His Faith". The New York Times.
- Bob Fisher (February 1, 1990). "Born on the Fourth of July". American Cinematographer (Los Angeles, California, United States: American Society of Cinematographers) 71 (2): 27. ISSN 0002-7928.
- Born on the Fourth of July on Rotten Tomatoes
- "The 62nd Academy Awards (1990) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-17.
- "Berlinale: 1990 Programme". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2011-03-17.
- Katz, Josh (April 5, 2012). "Born on the Fourth of July Blu-ray". Blu-Ray.com. Retrieved April 12, 2012.
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- Born on the Fourth of July at the Internet Movie Database
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- Born on the Fourth of July at TomCruise.com
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