Born on the Fourth of July

9 / 10

1989.  Directed by Oliver Stone.  Starring Tom Cruise.

On the Fourth of July, if you’re settling down for a movie with a Bud and a corndog and want to toast America, celebrate liberty and shoot your pistol into the ceiling, then watch White House Down and/or Olympus Has Fallen.  Thas a good night right thur.

But do not watch Born on the Fourth of July.  You will choke on your corndog.

Born on the Fourth of JulyBut if you DO want to watch something a little rougher on the gullet, something a bit more raw, real and confronting than Gerard Butler fist fighting North Koreans, then watch Born on the Fourth of July.  And stop shooting the ceiling.

The film is an adaptation of Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic’s autobiography spanning a 20-year period (1956-1976) of his early life.  The earliest years are a white picket fence portrayal of the American dream.  Kid Ron plays soldier in the backyard with his friends and wears his Yankees cap to wave at the dazed WWII veterans in the Fourth of July parade.

Tom Cruise (who, frustratingly, was born on the third of July) takes over as teenage Ron.  He’s got a small town love and dreams of becoming college wrestling champ, but, when President Kennedy asks, he dutifully leaves it all behind for something bigger – life as a US Marine. Hoo-rah.

Off to ‘Nam he goes and that’s where the cracks in his ideology start to appear.  He sees things he didn’t want to see, does things he didn’t want to do, and then just when he’s beginning to wonder if it could get any shittier, he gets shot in the spine by the Viet Cong. He’s paralysed and returns home with a wheelchair and an appalling haircut.  I was sympathetic about the wheelchair, but there is really no excuse for the hair, which is as much Ron Jeremy as it is Ron Kovic.


Anyway, it’s at this point that the film really begins. Born on the Fourth of July is not about war. It’s about what happens after war.  It’s about indignity and betrayal and confusion and despair and guilt; it’s about broken promises, involuntary mullets and shattered ideals of right and wrong.

And Tom Cruise nails it.  NAILS it.  When you watch Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, it’s easy to forget that Cruise became famous for being an exceptional actor long before he started jumping on Oprah’s couch.

I wonder if actors ever watch their own films when they have friends around on a Thursday night.  If I was Tom Cruise and my friends came over, assuming they had already seen Top Gun, I would put on Born on the Fourth of July, maybe followed by The Last Samurai or 28 Days Later if it wasn’t too late.  I’m not in 28 Days Later but it is a very good movie.  I would hide Jack Reacher under the couch.

Sadly for you, if I was Tom Cruise, I wouldn’t be inviting you over for movie nights.  I would invite Emily Blunt and Cuba Gooding Jr., and I guess probably Dustin Hoffman because I’ve felt this brotherly obligation to him ever since Rain Man. But I wouldn’t invite you, so you’re just going to have to go to Blockbuster and rent Born on the Fourth of July yourself.

About Willy

Willy cried in Little Miss Sunshine and only pretends to like the Godfather movies. He celebrates Jackie Chan's birthday every year.
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