13 August 2006 | ReelCheese
Absorbing Piece of Work
Let's start with the good news. "Born on the Fourth of July" is an absorbing piece of work, based on a true story, about Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise), a gung-ho Marine-turned-war-protester. We first meet Kovic as an all-American boy as strong in his faith as he is in his will to succeed. After high school he proudly joins the Marines, hoping he'll be shipped to Vietnam to stop the spread of communism. But the barbarities of war, including civilian casualties, friendly fire and a paralyzing bullet through the chest, gradually turn him against the conflict. Director Oliver Stone's method of telling Kovic's story over a period of several years is highly effective and convincing. Cruise is at his best as Kovic, portraying a wide range of emotions and developing apathy with the viewer. The audience feels what he feels, from confusion on the battlefield to the terror of being paralyzed from the waist down.
Now for the bad news. The picture is overly political, with Stone once again (and unnecessarily) casting Republicans as the bad guys and Democrats as the good guys (seemingly ignoring that the Dems initially sent the troops to 'Nam). The film also takes a while to build up steam, and the all-American life of the pre-Marine Kovic seems a little too perfect to be believable. Obviously a story such as this requires adequate screen time, but the 145 minutes is slightly drawn out, particularly toward the end. And although one of its central themes is the opposition to the war that greeted returning vets, the genesis and rationale of that opposition are not adequately explored.
As a whole, however, "Born of the Fourth of July" is recommended. Kovic's biography and Stone's masterful storytelling are a perfect match. It's not your typical war movie. In fact, it's not your typical movie, period.