Patriotic Movie Review: "Born on the Fourth of July"

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Rating: R
Length: 145 minutes
Release Date: January 5, 1990
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Genre: Biography / Drama / War

"Born on the Fourth of July" is based on the autobiography of Ron Kovic, a Vietnam veteran. The film details Kovic's experiences during the war and after, when he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and fought to receive adequate care for the injuries he sustained while in the Marine Corps. Through activism, Kovic makes in impact on both the war efforts and the treatment of veterans.

"Born on the Fourth of July" begins during Ron Kovic's childhood. Witnessing President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address and listening to a speech about the Marine Corps makes a lasting impression on Kovic. These early experiences eventually lead to him enlisting in the Marine Corps after he graduates from high school.

The film then jumps to Kovic's involvement in the Vietnam War. By now, he is a sergeant and on his second tour in Vietnam. On a dangerous mission, Kovic accidentally shoots and kills one of the members of his unit. Although Kovic feels that he should be punished for his actions, his commanding officer tells him to forget the incident.

A short time later, Kovic is wounded during another mission and paralyzed from the chest down. He recovers in a Veterans Administration hospital, where he receives poor medical care. When he is healthy enough to return home, Kovic begins distancing himself from his friends and family.

Suffering from post-traumatic stress, Kovic leaves his home and begins a journey across the country that culminates in his decision to join the anti-war and veterans' rights efforts. His involvement with these groups raises awareness of the effects of war and the poor medical care he received as a veteran.

"Born on the Fourth of July" stars Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic. Cruise's performance is moving, authentic and flawless. He effortlessly transitions through each of the stages Kovic goes through in the film. From dedicated soldier to injured veteran to impassioned activist, Cruise does not miss a beat from start to finish. Unsurprisingly, Cruise's performance led to his first Academy Award nomination. Although the rest of the characters are easily overshadowed by Cruise, the performances of Kyra Sedgwick, Josh Evans and Stephen Baldwin are also notable.

"Born on the Fourth of July" tells the true story of Ron Kovic's life without the typical Hollywood glamorization. Director Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay for the film using Kovic's autobiography, and he also worked with Kovic himself to come up with a screenplay that was accurate and fit for the screen.

In addition to being true to life, the film pays a lot of attention to detail without feeling like it drags on and on, even though the run time is 145 minutes. The opening scenes featuring childhood memories and experiences are central to how Kovic's life ultimately turned out. Stone lays the foundation for the later developments by dedicating a good amount of time to Kovic's decision to join the Marine Corps and the forces behind his growing sense of patriotism.

After showing Kovic's early experiences, the story transitions to the war zone. With Stone's success making a previous war film — the 1986 film "Platoon" — it is not surprising that these scenes are tragic and moving. Stone — also a Vietnam veteran — brings the horrors of war to life while focusing in on two specific events in Kovic's life. Nothing in these scenes is edited or diluted to please the audience, which adds yet another layer of authenticity to the film.

Although Kovic cuts himself off from his family and close friends, several supporting characters show up periodically throughout the film. From his conservative and religious mother to his brother, who is involved with anti-war groups, to his lover, who is also a wounded Vietnam veteran, the inclusion of so many supporting characters creates a well-rounded perspective. It is through these tenuous relationships that Kovic begins to question his involvement in the war and the motivations behind U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

The film closes with Kovic's involvement in spreading awareness for veterans' rights. Although his success as an activist took a lifetime of experiences and years of hard work, the film sums it up in two very brief but powerful scenes. The disparity between the time dedicated to Kovic's struggles and his success is rightly balanced. Instead of simply brushing over what it took to get where Kovic ends up, the film brings the audience along on the journey of the highs and lows of Ron Kovic's life.

Oliver Stone and Tom Cruise bring the story of Ron Kovic to life in a powerful and compelling way. The film takes care to tell the entire story instead of just the highlights. With brilliant acting and a poignant real-life story, "Born on the Fourth of July" is a truly enjoyable film to watch.