“People here, they don’t give a shit about the war. To them it’s just a million miles away.”
Tom Cruise was born on the 3rd of July. Pre-couch he was my girlhood crush and I always remembered his birthday because it was the day before mine which was the fourth of July. Cruise is still an incredible actor but he may never live down that eventful couch day on Oprah. It has transformed his image from cool top dog in Hollywood to crazy religious zealot in the eyes of the public. Taking a trip back to the good old days of Tom Cruise’s ultimate acting prime (when he still had the ability to pull off humility well), Born on the Fourth of July, he stars in one of his most demanding and inspiring roles.
Born on the Fourth of July is based on the autobiography of Vietnam War Veteran, Ron Kovic. It tells the story of one man’s life leading into a war he believed was the most important calling he had in his life. He was a true patriot in every sense of the word following his president’s call to battle. Young Ron jumped to sign up for the Marines before he had even completed high school, he was thrilled to be able to go help battle communism overseas, and even more thrilled to even have the chance to live up to the glory his father had in WWII.
Once he gets to his destination, Ron comes to realize what the war really is: a series of collisions with militants who hide under cover of civilians. The highlights of his tour include unintentionally killing women and children caught in crossfire, mortally wounding one of his fellow Marines and getting shot himself in the foot and spine which lead to his eventual discharge after a hellish hospital stay. When he comes home, he expects the same kind of treatment soldiers used to receive back before the 60’s happened. Instead, he comes home to a new anti-war, anti-American, anti-military country that’s moved on and is ready to fight its own battles stateside like civil rights.
Born on the Fouth of July is about a war, but it doesn't focus on the action as much as you might think. The battle that Kovic fights internally after he comes home is what the film is really all about. Kovic struggles with the Post-traumatic stress of all that he'd done and witnessed. The film is riddled with emotional, cathartic scenes documenting the journey Ron takes from his naive childhood to his adulthood life when he comes to terms with his anger and regrets. The whole movie is a journey leading up to the time when we start to see the clouds break over Ron. There's a beautiful scene toward the end when Ron says, “people say if you don’t love America, then get the hell out. Well I love America. We love the people of America very much but when it comes to the government it stops right there. The government is a bunch of corrupt thieves, rapists and robbers, and we are here to say we don’t have to take it anymore!”
Born on the Fourth of July has some incredibly difficult scenes. It’s one thing to see death and violence of people who willingly go into battle, which is hard enough, but to see small children and even infants suffering needlessly it’s enough to send any mother - or human being really - into an emotional state. Then, when Ron gets back home and he has to watch as people scoff at his service, it’s too much to bear at times. Ron comes to terms with mountains of regret, pain and anguish of losing his ability to walk, and the most tragic thing is that he realizes he was wrong about the country he idolized so much. The war wasn’t cut and dry good guy/bad guys and the communist threat wasn’t as big of a deal as Americans were led to believe. Stone pulls out every sentimental device to draw empathy out of his viewers; he really succeeds in giving a glimpse of what the characters in the film are experiencing.
What’s even more intense about watching this film today is that the current state of war we’re in is nearly as controversial as the war that takes place in Born on the Fourth of July. The only difference is the sheer volume of American lives being lost now is no where near what it was in Vietnam. War is still war though and it still rips through everyone’s lives that come in contact with it. That’s part of the brilliance in this film that Oliver Stone didn’t fail to leave out: the little details like the parade in the beginning with veterans and the parade that Kovic sat through exemplify how during war and even at peace, the effects still linger deeply within the lives of those who have served and fought and those who lost their loved ones.
Speaking of Oliver Stone, this has to be the greatest movie he's ever made. If you don’t like the plot, you have to admit that every little detail is absolutely perfect as it often is with Stone films. The acting of each person on the set from the huge name stars like Tom Cruise to the extras at the bars in Mexico is flawless. This is one of those movies where you have an entire package deal where each element is pretty close to perfect from the casting, writing, directing, acting, music, cinematography, and what else is there? I can’t name a single thing that’s wrong with this film other than the really hard parts to watch, and those scenes are plentiful. There are very few films that can get me to cry and this is one of them.
If you haven’t seen this film, it’s probably one of the greatest depictions of how war affects people from a very personalized individual perspective. It shows how far America has come and shows how far we can still go too. The bottom line here is everyone should see Born on the Fourth of July at least once in their life. No matter how you feel about the politics, it’s a great example of quality film, and it’s a nice trip back in time to see Tom Cruise at his finest.
Born on the Fourth of July is presented in 1080i/p and the original widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1. For its theatrical release having been in 1989, I’m thoroughly impressed with how incredible this transfer is. The detail is incredible all around in closeup scenes and the backgrounds hold up exceptionally well too. The dark scenes look great with little to no crushing. Overall, this is a pretty perfect transfer. It doesn't get much better than this with a 1989 film transfer.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio comes close to perfect just like the video. This is a track that has it all really: thunderous explosions, a swelling emotional score, relevant pop hits, accurate ambient sound effects. The delicate accuracy it must have taken to draw out all of these detailed audio effects really show in the audio transfer on Born on the Fourth of July. All the speakers get some love and things like ambient sound effects and the orchestral score are where the track really shine. If there’s one imperfection, it’s during quiet scenes with dialogue. These times occasionally get drowned out and you have to adjust the volume a little bit. Additionally, I was kind of hoping for more depth on the bass when explosions and booms hit. Overall though there's nothing to be seriously disappointed with as you'll be very pleased with the overall transfer.
I was expecting far more than what we see on this special 100th Anniversary Blu-ray release of Born on the Fourth of July. A commentary and standard definition, outdated “Backstory” is just disappointing. The 100 Years featurettes are interesting, but they are completely unrelated to the film. Where are the behind the scenes things? More commentary options? Documentary on the war? Just an all around disappointment that doesn’t fit with the rest of the package. That being said, the low low price of this set available on Amazon along with the DVD and Digital Copy make it a bargain steal.
No matter how you feel about war, America, Tom Cruise, or Oliver Stone's typical liberal bias, Born on the Fourth of July is one of the greatest films ever made. Universal Studios thinks so too apparently which is why they included it in their limited release of their top films in the 100th Anniversary series. The only downside to this film is the lackluster extras. I completely recommend picking up this Blu-ray in any edition.