Born on the Fourth of July (1989) B+
Oliver Stone's second Vietnam War film, "Born on the Fourth of July," was inspired by the memoirs of the vet Ron Kovic. It tells the touching story of a nave and idealistic youth, Ron Kovic (played as an adult by Tom Cruise in a strong, passionate performance), who joins the Marines and is shipped to Vietnam, where he is wounded and paralyzed from the waist down.
By centering on the effects of the War and the home front, the movie, produced by Stone and A. Kitman Ho, is a companion piece to the helmer's 1986 Oscar-winning "Platoon," which focuses on the inner tensions of one fighting unit in Vietnam.
The Oscar-nominated script, co-written by Stone and Kovic himself, was controversial due to changes made from the facts; the winner was Alfred Uhry for "Driving Miss Daisy," which won Best Picture and other awards.
The story begins in Massapaqua, New York, where Kovic is raised by a large, patriotic family to become an all-American, religious athlete, which leads to enlisting in the Marines out of belief in the war's cause. Sent to Vietnam, his value system begins to shatter, particularly after he accidentally ends up killing a fellow soldier in a firefight.
A bullet wound causes severe paralysis and he is sent back home, where his alienation from his family and disenchantment with the War and the government increase. He slowly becomes a drunken, self-pitying dropout, a phase that culminates in a hedonistic trip to Mexico. With time, he begins to regain control over his life and transforms into an anti-War activist, with a new sense of identity and self-respect.
Stone's treatment of the stirring material is uneven, and many critics felt that he inserted all too strongly his own feeling about the war and America into Kovic's life. Even so, the movie is ultra-frank in dealing with the notion of tarnished masculinity, evident in several powerful confrontations between Ron and his mom (Caroline Kava) that are not easy to watch due to their boldness but also excessive pathos. Cruise's fans and followers used this movie as proof that he can really act, and is not just a glamorous movie star.
Cast Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) Young Ron (Bryan Larkin) Mr. Kovic (Raymond J. Barry) Mrs. Kovic (Caroline Kava) Tommy Kovic (Josh Evans) Young Tommy (Seth Allen) Jimmy Kovic (Jamie Talisman) Young Jimmy (Sean Stone) Susanne Kovic (Anne Bobby) Young Susanne (Jenna von Oy)
Oscar Nominations: 8
Picture, produced by A. Kitman Ho and Oliver Stone
Director: Oliver Stone
Screenplay (Adapted): Oliver Stone and Ron Kovic
Actor: Tom Cruise
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
Film Editing: David Brenner and Joe Hutshing
Sound: Michael Minkler, Gregory H. Watkins, Wylie Stateman, and Tod A. Maitland
Original Score: John Williams
Oscar Awards: 2
The most nominated film in 1989, "Driving Miss Daisy" received four Oscars out of its nine nominations, including Picture, Screenplay, and Best Actress. The biggest scandal was that the film's director, Bruce Beresford, failed to receive recognition from his peers in the Directors Branch.
The other Best Picture nominees represented a mixed bag in genre and quality: Oliver Stone's Vietnam drama "Born on the Fourth of July" with 8 nominations and 2 Oscars, "My Left Foot" with 5, "Dead Poets Society" with 4, and "Field of Dreams with 3."
The winner of the Cinematography Oscar was Freddie Francis for the Civil War movie "Glory," which also won the Sound Oscar. The Scoring Award went to Alan Menken for "The Little Mermaid."
related article 1: John Wayne's Politics: Unabashed Yankee Doodle.
related article 2: Platoon: Stone's Battle to Make the Vietnam Movie.
related article 3: Platoon (1986): Oscar Winner.
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