Born on the Fourth of July (film)
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Born on the Fourth of July is a 1989 American biographical anti-war film based on the 1976 autobiography by Ron Kovic. Directed by Oliver Stone, and written by Stone and Kovic, it stars Tom Cruise, Kyra Sedgwick, Raymond J. Barry, Jerry Levine, Frank Whaley, and Willem Dafoe. The film depicts the life of Kovic (Cruise) over a 20-year period, detailing his childhood, his military service and paralysis during the Vietnam War, and his transition to anti-war activism. It is the second installment in Stone's trilogy of films about the Vietnam War, following Platoon (1986) and preceding Heaven & Earth (1993).
Producer Martin Bregman acquired the film rights to the book in 1976 and hired Stone, also a Vietnam veteran, to co-write the screenplay with Kovic, who would be played by Al Pacino. When Stone optioned the book in 1978, the film adaptation became mired in development hell after Pacino and Bregman left, which resulted in him and Kovic putting the film on hold. After the release of Platoon, the project was revived at Universal Pictures, with Stone attached to direct. Shot on locations in the Philippines, Texas and Inglewood, California, principal photography took place from October 1988 to December, lasting 65 days of filming. The film went over its initial $14 million production budget, and ended up costing $17.8 million after reshoots.
Upon release, Born on the Fourth of July was praised by critics for its story, Cruise's performance and Stone's direction. The film was successful at the box office as it grossed over $162 million worldwide, becoming the tenth highest-grossing film of 1989. At the 62nd Academy Awards, it received eight nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Cruise, his first nomination, and the film won for Best Director, Stone's second in that category, and Best Film Editing. The film also won four Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama, Best Director and Best Screenplay.
In 1956 Massapequa, New York, 10-year-old Ron Kovic is playing with his friends in a forest. On his Fourth of July birthday, he attends an Independence Day parade with his family and best friend Donna. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy's televised inaugural address inspires a teenage Ron to join the United States Marine Corps. After attending an impassioned lecture by two Marine recruiters visiting his high school, he enlists. His decision receives support from his mother, but upsets his father, a World War II veteran. Ron goes to his prom, and dances with Donna before leaving for basic training.
In October 1967, Ron is now a Marine sergeant on a reconnaissance mission in Vietnam, during his second tour of duty. He and his unit kill a number of Vietnamese villagers after mistaking them for enemy combatants. After encountering enemy fire, they flee the village and abandon its sole survivor, a crying baby. During the retreat, Ron accidentally kills Wilson, a young private in his platoon. He reports the action to his superior, who ignores the claim and advises him not to say anything else. In January 1968, Ron is critically wounded during a firefight, but is rescued by a fellow Marine. Paralyzed from the mid-chest down, he spends several months in recovery at the Bronx Veterans Hospital in New York. The hospital's conditions are poor; the doctors and nurses ignore patients, abuse drugs, and operate using old equipment. Against his doctors' requests, Ron desperately tries to walk again with the use of braces and crutches, only to damage his legs and confine himself permanently to a wheelchair.
In 1969, Ron returns home and turns to alcohol after feeling increasingly neglected and disillusioned. During an Independence Day parade, Ron is asked to give a speech, but is unable to finish after he hears a crying baby in the crowd and has a flashback to Vietnam. Ron visits Donna in Syracuse, New York, where the two reminisce. While attending a vigil for the victims of the Kent State shootings, they are separated when Donna and other protestors are taken away by police for demonstrating against the Vietnam War.
In Massapequa, a drunken Ron has a heated argument with his mother, and his father decides to send him to Villa Dulce (The Sweet Villa), a Mexican haven for wounded Vietnam veterans. He has his first sexual encounter with a prostitute, whom he falls for until he sees her with another customer. Ron befriends Charlie, another paraplegic, and the two decide to travel to another village after getting kicked out of a bar. After annoying their taxicab driver, they are stranded on the side of the road and argue with each other. They are picked up by a truck driver who takes them back to Villa Dulce.
Ron travels to Armstrong, Texas, where he discovers Wilson's tombstone. He then visits the fallen Marine's family in Georgia to confess his guilt. Wilson's widow Jamie expresses that she is unable to forgive Ron, while her parents are more sympathetic. In 1972, Ron joins the organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and travels to the Republican National Convention in Miami, Florida. As Richard Nixon is giving an acceptance speech for his presidential nomination, Ron expresses to a news reporter his hatred for the war and the government for abandoning the American people. His comments enrage Nixon supporters, and his interview is cut short when police attempt to remove and arrest him and other protestors. Ron and the veterans manage to break free from the officers, regroup, and charge the hall again, though not successfully. In 1976, Ron delivers a public address at the Democratic National Convention in New York City, following the publication of his autobiography.
- Tom Cruise as Sergeant Ron Kovic
- Willem Dafoe as Charlie
- Kyra Sedgwick as Donna
- Raymond J. Barry as Mr. Kovic
- Jerry Levine as Steve Boyer
- Frank Whaley as Timmy
- Caroline Kava as Mrs. Kovic
- Cordelia Gonzalez as Maria Elena - Villa Dulce
- Ed Lauter as Legion Commander
- John Getz as Marine Major - Vietnam
- Beau Starr as Man #2 - Arthur's Bar
- Michael Wincott as Vet #3 - Villa Dulce
- Edith Díaz as Madame - Villa Dulce
- Richard Grusin as Coach - Massapequa
- Stephen Baldwin as Billy Vorsovich
- Bob Gunton as Doctor #1 - Veterans Hospital
- Jason Gedrick as Martinez - Vietnam
- Richard Panebianco as Joey Walsh
- Anne Bobby as Susanne Kovic
- David Warshofsky as Lieutenant - Vietnam
- Reg E. Cathey as Speaker - Syracuse
- Josh Evans as Tommy Kovic
- Bruce MacVittie as Patient #2 - Veterans Hospital
- Lili Taylor as Jamie Wilson
- David Herman as Patient #1 - Veterans Hospital
- Andrew Lauer as Vet #2 - Villa Dulce
- Tom Sizemore as Vet #1 - Villa Dulce
- Bryan Larkin as Young Ron
- Jessica Prunell as Young Donna
- Tom Berenger as Gunnery Sergeant Hayes - Marine Recruiter
- Richard Haus as Marine Sergeant - 2nd Recruiter
- Mark Moses as Optimistic Doctor
- Holly Marie Combs as Jenny
- John C. McGinley as Official #1 – Democratic Convention (Pushing Kovic's Wheelchair)