BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY—– “People say that if you don’t love America, then get the hell out. Well, I love America.”
Three years after his combat-immersion triumph with Platoon, Oliver Stone revisited the Vietnam War, focusing not on the fighting (only 12% of the running time is spent in Vietnam) but on the immense personal cost borne by some of those who did it. Directing, he co-wrote the screenplay with fellow vet Ron Kovic, based off Kovic’s 1976 autobio. The searing 1989 cry of outrage brought Stone his second Oscar as Best Director (first was Platoon) and also picked up the gold for Film Editing. It was Nominated for Best Picture, Actor (Tom Cruise, 26, his first nomination), Screenplay, Cinematography, Music Score and Sound Mixing. Recreating the look and feel of the 60s and 70s took $17,800,000; it was the 17th most-seen film of the year, grossing $70,000,000, with another $91,000,000 witnessed across the seas.
Serving as a Marine in Vietnam in 1967, Ron Kovic (Cruise) is wounded so badly he will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Spanning twenty years (1956-76), the story covers him from boy-next-door playing soldier as a child, followed by his inspiration to serve the country in the early 60s, the war, and the literally paralyzing aftermath as a discarded crippled veteran, one whose cruelly awakened political conscience eventually forged rage into protest and activism. A patriot. You may love Mom, and be up for apple pie, but if she keeps ruining it with too much salt, don’t you think it’s okay to let her know?
The people who don’t like Tom Cruise will never give the guy a break. It’s pathological: he could save their child’s life and they’d flip him off. Well, hate me, too, then, because I think he’s superb in this film.
Beautifully shot by Robert Richardson in the Philippines, Texas and California. Fine low-key score by John Williams. Also in the cast: Willem Dafoe (fierce), Kyra Sedgwick, Raymond J. Barry, Caroline Kava, Frank Whaley, Jerry Levine, Tom Berenger, Cordelia Gonzalez, Ed Lauter, Michael Wincott, Stephen Baldwin, Lili Taylor, Tom Sizemore, Mark Moses, John C. McGinley, Bryan Larkin (Kovic as a child), Bob Gunton, Vivica A. Fox, Holly Marie Combs, Tony Frank, Jack McGee, Wayne Knight, William Baldwin. 145 minutes.
Kovic was initially skeptical about the star of Top Gun playing him in a movie. At the end of filming, for the star’s 27th birthday, Kovic, by then was so impressed with the actor’s full-bore immersion in the role that he gave Cruise the Bronze Star he’d been awarded for heroism. Ron Kovic’s verdict ought to stand for something.
“I’m a Vietnam veteran, I’m here tonight to say, this war is wrong, this government lied to me, lied to my brothers, the people in this country tricked us into going thirteen thousand miles to fight a war against poor peasant people who have a proud history of resistance who have been struggling for their own independence for one thousand years, the Vietnamese people, I can’t find the words to express how the leadership of this country sickens me, people say “if you don’t love America, then get the hell out,” well I love America we love the people of America very much but when it comes to the government it stops right there, the government are a bunch of corrupt thieves, they are rapists and robbers, and we are here to say “we don’t have to take it anymore”, we are here to tell the truth, they are killing our brothers in Vietnam, this wheelchair, our wheelchairs, this steel, our steel is your Memorial Day on wheels, we are your Yankee Doodle Dandy come home.”