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Born on the Fourth of July(1989)
The biography of Ron Kovic. Paralyzed in the Vietnam war, he becomes an anti-war and pro-human rights political activist after feeling betrayed by the country he fought for.
For more about Born on the Fourth of July and the Born on the Fourth of July Blu-ray release, see Born on the Fourth of July Blu-ray Review published by Brian Orndorf on July 4, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Tom Berenger, Kyra Sedgwick, Frank Whaley, Stephen Baldwin, Tom Sizemore
Director: Oliver Stone
» See full cast & crew
Born on the Fourth of July Blu-ray Review
The Gospel According to Stone
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf, July 4, 2012
In 1989, writer/director Oliver Stone was diligently working on building his filmmaking career after his 1986 effort, the semi-autobiographical "Platoon," was showered with awards and exceptional box office, making the struggling artist a hot commodity. His vision would carry on to movies such as 1987's "Wall Street" and 1988's "Talk Radio," but Stone's interests in the nuances of the Vietnam War was far from sated. Adapted from the autobiography by veteran-turned-activist Ron Kovic, "Born on the Fourth of July" allowed Stone a chance to expand his dissection of this tumultuous era, acquiring a story not necessarily about the horror of the front lines, but the conflict of the troubled soul. Finding a tale that carried such a singular perspective on the changing face of a bleeding nation, Stone unearthed the basis for what I would consider to be his finest hour as a director, showing such extraordinary command over epic storytelling movement, visual communication, and thespian achievement. He takes his investigation into the heart of war, coming away with an abyssal understanding of the conflicts at home and abroad. "Born on the Fourth of July" is an exceptional feature on every level of execution, also displaying a rare sensitivity to Stone that he would spend the rest of his career trying to bury in violence and experimentation.
As a boy growing up in Massapequa, New York, Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) was raised with an insatiable need to join the armed forces, hoping to fulfill his masculine duty as a front-line protector of America, like his father before him in WWII. Setting aside his interests in Donna (Kyra Sedgwick), his high school crush, for early enlistment with the Marines, Ron leaves his idyllic life behind to fight in Vietnam. After some time on duty, Ron has witnessed the true horrors of war, finding his conscience put to test when he can't take full responsibility for the friendly fire shooting of a fellow Marine. Soon after, Ron is paralyzed by an enemy bullet, sent to a bleak veterans' hospital for treatment, where he comes to terms with a life he will no longer have due to his injury. Returning home to his parents (a wonderful Raymond J. Barry and Caroline Kava) in Massapequa, Ron begins to sense the shifting tide to society, confronted by a subculture that's openly challenging government policy, leaving the wheelchair-bound man disillusioned with a system he once depended on to help define his life. Witnessing the radical changes hitting his friends (including Frank Whaley and Jerry Levine) and family, Ron turns to drinking and a trip to Mexico to help numb his pain, struggling to find his purpose in the world with his broken body and a conflicted mind.
The middle chapter of Stone's "Vietnam Trilogy," (concluding with 1993's muddled "Heaven and Earth"), "Born on the Fourth of July" seeks to widen the scope set by "Platoon," displaying a richer understanding of the death of innocence, a potent theme Stone has returned to repeatedly during his career. While the story of a man struggling with the cruelty of his new reality, the material also surveys the erosion of American complacency and the illusion of simplicity, detailing a seismic shift in the national consciousness as Kennedy-era optimism shattered to reveal a population increasingly unwilling to accept an unwinnable war against an unknown enemy. However, "Born on the Fourth of July" isn't preachy, it's lived-in, painted broadly to create a clear divide between Ron's Normal Rockwell experiences in Massapequa and the viciousness of combat, where the young prince was stripped of his dignity and his dreams, forced to reassess and rebuild what was left of his life in a now foreign land of opinion and condemnation by those completely unaware of the true Vietnam experience. Ron's story is one of observation and intimacy with evil, while Stone's take is gorgeously mournful, isolating the humiliations and arrogance of youth to best understand the character's interior drive, which often forces the vet into reckless acts of frustration.
While chunks of Ron's life are missing from the tale, the chapters that remain here summarize an extraordinary life of loss and confrontation. Stone squeezes those sensitive spots of youthful naiveté, observing Ron hesitate to make his move on Donna or berate his friends who fail to share his enthusiasm for military service. We witness Ron as a child enjoying Fourth of July holiday festivities (also the date of his birth), experiencing preadolescent obliviousness while drinking in visions of WWII vets staggering along a parade route, planting the seed of his own service. There's also a domestic side to the young man, raised Catholic inside a large family, just getting a handle on his sexuality and social bravery before he's sent across the world, cruelly losing such opportunities of the heart and body to the violence of a bullet. All the while, the score by John Williams cries in background, frequently swooping forward, sonically summarizing sadness to a picture that hypnotizes with its orchestral precision. Deceptively simplistic, the repetition of the elegiac music creates an extraordinary accuracy to Stone's vision, finding the exact note of personal loss "Born on the Fourth of July" is reaching to impart. In a career already stacked with superlative scores and unforgettable themes, Williams delivers faultless work here.
The dark side of "Born on the Fourth of July" is carried with equal bereavement, with special attention to Ron's persistent agitation, keeping the character a compelling live wire in the midst of a protracted breakdown. It's some of the best filmmaking to emerge from Stone, who knows to isolate the growing despondency within Ron as his future slips through his fingers, with all the heartache and misery helping to shape the man he'll become. Still, those steps of torment are necessary and, in Stone's care, quite graphic, with the VA hospital section of the tale dripping with bodily fluids and contempt, adding to Ron's madness as he deals with horrific mistreatment inside an underfunded facility devoted to the care of the country's protectors. It's a grueling chapter, yet so precise in its anguish, cleanly communicating the grueling rehabilitation event for Ron, who had to fight to save his legs from amputation, prolonging the pain to preserve what was left of his dignity. Stone also explores the Ron's exposure to the outside world as a paralyzed man, following him as he attempts to rekindle what was lost with Donna (who's grown into an activist), while a trip to Mexico provides the wounded man with a momentary recovery of his sexuality, though this fleeting intimacy with a prostitute comes with a heavy psychological price.
Although Stone and cinematographer Robert Richardson create a mesmerizing portrait of Ron's disintegration with dense, haunting widescreen imagery, it's Tom Cruise who finds the textures of yearly development within the character, delivering career-best work in a complicated role that demands vulnerability and physical exhaustion. While 1988's "Rain Man" gifted Cruise a chance to flex his dramatic muscles, "Born of the Fourth of July" was a full-scale thespian immersion, with wispy wigs, uncomfortable mustaches, and a vein-popping commitment to the fire in Ron's belly helping to shape a portrait of a man on the edge. Cruise is startling, working from pure juvenile innocence to the decimation of spirit, using his skills with facial response to express the nuances of emotions, while also tending handily to the shrillness of Ron's temper. It's lovely work, brimming with heartache and indignation, inviting the viewer to understand the tragedy of Ron's life while preserving the vet's efforts to turn the darkness into something meaningful, keeping the subject attentive while backstroking in his misery. It's a fascinating performance, cementing Cruise's as a dominant screen force, opening his range in ways previously though unimaginable. After all, "Born on the Fourth of July" debuted less than two years after "Cocktail." Even with the success of "Rain Man," nobody saw this level of Cruise coming.
Born on the Fourth of July Blu-ray, Video Quality
The VC-1 encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) presentation creates an inviting viewing experience for this lushly shot picture, with solid, expressive colors making an immediate impression, working to separate the eras depicted with extraordinary reds and blues, while atmospheric changes bring washes of orange without losing the integrity of the cinematography (offered cleanly here, without debris). Fine detail is strong, with facial inspection bringing out the lines of aging and considerable expressions of worry, while costuming is easily surveyed, strengthening the visual divide between Ron and the world around him. The Mexico sequence is especially rich with sweaty bodies and vile close-ups, while the movie's graphic war zone visitations display necessary make-up nuances to help appreciate the dire situations. Grain is retained with a subtle feel, bringing a needed cinematic look to the image. Ringing is rarely detected. Shadow detail is comfortable, with a few evening sequences losing a little sense of depth, while dense hair and Vietnam/neighborhood distances are preserved.
Born on the Fourth of July Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio track is gifted a tremendous asset in Williams's score, which sounds heavenly here, supplying the feature with an orchestral lift that's necessary to forcefully comprehend the sweeping changes in Ron's life. The music has power and fullness, elegantly supporting additional audio elements. Soundtrack selections also carry good instrumentation and respectful placement. Dialogue is handed a solid frontal position, with richly emotional tones and confrontational sharpness, also processing Stone's use of chaos well, with clusters of voices carrying subtle reactions and lines. Verbal shrillness isn't felt. Surrounds are useful, capturing the community feel with verbal expanse and a nice handle on echo. War scenes also bring out a hefty circular feel, offering swooping directional activity for helicopters and bullets, while low-end remains engaged with explosions and heavy armament.
Born on the Fourth of July Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Born on the Fourth of July Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
"Born on the Fourth of July" displays a semi-operatic appreciation for America's woes and Ron's reawakening, making it a riveting portrait of history with an intimate emotional core. The Vietnam experience has been tackled in numerous ways, with Stone himself creating a resurgence of interest in the topic after the release of "Platoon." However, few films have extracted such a pure lament for wartime confusion, backed with a simplistic but searing depiction of a country grasping awareness for the first time. "Born on the Fourth of July" is artful, meaningful, and achingly human, finding Stone in a rare mood of compassion and screen poetry. It's a haunting picture: evocative, maddening, and educational, but also graceful in a manner few bio-pics are able to achieve. Credit it to the focus of Stone, the might of Cruise, and the miracle of Kovic, whose story represents not only a remarkable tale of personal endurance, but also the transformation of a politically volcanic nation.
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• This Week on Blu-ray: July 3-10 - July 2, 2012
One of this week's most notable releases is God Bless America, the comedy from filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait. Goldthwait uses the film to launch a full-bore assault on contemporary society's fixation with media overexposure; his hero is a terminally ill Everyman ...
• Born on the Fourth of July Blu-ray - April 5, 2012
As part of its 100th Anniversary this year, Universal Studios Home Entertainment is offering special Blu-rays of selected catalog titles, and Born on the Fourth of July will arrive in the July wave. This adaptation of Ron Kovic's memoir stars Tom Cruise (The Color ...
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