‘Fourth of July’ a rousing success

By Vittorio Carli

“Born on the Fourth of July” is a powerful drama that depicts the after-effects of the Vietnam War. It was directed by Oliver Stone, who is best known for his work on “Platoon.”

The film was based on an autobiographical novel by Ron Kovic, a real-life Vietnam veteran who became an anti-war protester. Kovic also co-wrote the script and served as the film’s technical advisor.

Tom Cruise (“The Color of Money” and “Rain Man”) plays the role of Ron Kovic and his performance is a true revelation. This is certainly Cruise’s most demanding role and he rises to the occasion. Cruise is so completely convincing that it is easy to forget that he is merely acting.

In the first part of the film, Kovic’s character is a patriotic high school student who enlists in the marines. He wants to serve his country and sees the Vietnam War as his chance to “make history.” At this stage the character resembles the other cocky, self-confident characters that Cruise has played in the past.

Ron is traumatized and psychologically scarred by his experiences in the war. In one powerful scene, he tells his commander that he accidently killed one of his own men. The commander initially meets his confession with indifference and he later becomes angry. The commander has become so hardened that he is unable to offer any emotional support.

Kovic is caught in a grenade blast and loses the use of his legs. He also undergoes a shocking physical and mental transformation in the film. He grows long hair, and a beard and he begins to use course and vulgar language. Kovic comes to see the war as meaningless and attends an anti-war demonstrations.

He turns to alcohol to forget his anguish and insults his old-fashioned mother. His parents get fed up with his drunken outbursts and they ask him to leave their home.

Kovic moves to a Mexican town which serves as a sanctuary for disabled veterans. The veterans drown their sorrows with alcohol and they spend a lot of time with voluptuous prostitutes. Eventually, Kovic becomes fed up with his decadent lifestyle and he moves back to the United States in order to protest the war.

The changes that Kovic goes through parallel the changes his country went through in the late 60s and early 70s. The United States went from being naive and secure to being cynical and disillusioned.

Unfortunately, the movie never gives us a clear-cut reason for Kovic’s drastic change in political idealogy. The movie suggests that he may have simply gotten swept up in the hippy movement. Kovic’s speeches tend to appeal more to emotion than logic.

Despite this, the film is a rousing success. “Born on the Fourth of July” is a realistic film that confronts some difficult truths about our country’s involvement in an extremely controversial war.