Born on the Fourth of July

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The All-American boy grows up playing soldier in Massapequa, Long Island, is further instilled with the fighting spirit on the high-school wrestling team, gets recruited by the Marines ("There is nothing finer, nothing prouder, nothing standing as straight ..."), goes to Vietnam, gets disillusioned, gets shot, gets paralyzed from the chest down, gets bitter ("Love it or leave it, you fuckin' bastards"), gets an earful of peacenik talk, gets drunk, lets his hair grow, flips out, goes to Mexico, joins the anti-war movement. A lot of this happens in slow-motion. A lot of it happens with the camera lurching around uncontrolledly to create an effect of documentary immediacy and unconcerned to ensure that you can tell what's happening. And a great deal of this twenty-year odyssey (it takes four years just to get through the opening credits) is so rudimentary, so remedial, that you would imagine it could have much impact only on people who are susceptible to things already familiar and are immune to anything different. But because it was made by Oliver Stone, you may be sure you will get a few things different, at least in degree of graphicness. Beginning with the stay in the veterans' hospital (with its rats, bedpans, vomit portrayed in revolting detail) and extending into the forced-happy homecoming and the right-sounding reminiscing among Vietnam vets, the movie begins to take on more of a special identity, more of a special urgency. And at some point, maybe the point at which the protagonist and a fellow paraplegic are sitting in their wheelchairs at the side of a Mexican dirt road in the middle of nowhere and spitting in each other's faces, you begin to feel that the movie is, in its own crude and clumsy and meandering way, paying due respect to an individual and unduplicable destiny. It's a true story, that of Veterans-against-the-War spokesman Ron Kovic. And Tom Cruise, showing more here than he has shown everywhere else combined, has done it no disrespect in his performance either. (1989) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated R


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