Born on the Fourth of July (USA, 1989)

69aDirected by: Oliver Stone. This was a holdover from early in the spring when I was reading a book by Robert Kolker on American cinema, and the time he spent going over Oliver Stone (the Nixon one looked more interesting than this one, but this was what was on the shelf at the library). And it ended up being better overall than it was at any single point in the story, especially the beginning. It took this movie for me to realize what a sentimental SOB Stone can really be, even more gushing with saccharine patriotism than Spielberg, and even more insufferable than Spielberg. Gimme Spielberg or Eastwood any day—this stuff of Stone’s, in this movie, and in Platoon and especially JFK, is pretty ridiculous, and it stems from Stone’s own insufferably juvenile patriotism, the childhood naivete that must have been just oozing out of him before it was bled out of him in Vietnam. This story is not his story, but the story of Ron Kovics must have seemed like a kindred spirit story to Stone, and the subjective emotion of it seems even stronger than Platoon, which was apparently based on Stone’s own personal experiences. The overall gist of the film is pretty interesting, if not subtly executed: make no mistake, every nail is hit directly on the head here. But the major Hollywood ending stuff, probably out of respect for Kovics, is omitted, so no satisfying coupling with the female lead, no real romantic interest at all, and no uncomplicated resolution with his family, no gaining redemption through the approval of his parents, no concrete resolution in any way (no concrete objective is reached), other than the general changing of Ron’s mind, his speaking truth to power on an issue that history has proven him right in this modern year of 1989 (the film). And of course, when you look at the contrast between how saccharine and simplistic and Norman Rockwell the pre-war sequences look compared to how fucking awful the postwar sequences look—the sweaty, skullet-sporting, moustachioed, jaded, cynical, alcoholic, prostitution and self-pity sequences—it’s pretty jarring for a few reasons. First, the whole thing about how this film fits into America’s reckoning with the turbulent time of the 60’s, the fracturing of the American consciousness, all the stuff that I’ve mentioned before but which I don’t feel like going over right now, and ALSO, how terrible Tom Cruise was willing to let himself appear when he was just getting started as a heartthrob, this film being his excuse to be taken as a “serious” actor (the high point of which, in my opinion, was Collateral, which he hasn’t really approached since then, but regardless). There’s a ton of great supporting roles in here, including Frank Whaley, Willem Dafoe, and the dad from Walk Hard. Not a great drama, not a subtle or realistic drama by today’s standards, but an interesting case study in historical analysis of that strange period of overwraught acting and sentimentality that thought it was sober and realistic in the late-80’s and early 90’s.

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One response to “Born on the Fourth of July (USA, 1989)

  1. Pingback: Margin Call (USA, 2011) | Offhand Reviews·

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