U.S. History in Film

Prof. McClurken’s HIST 329 — Fall 2008

Born On The Fourth Of July

In analyzing any film with Oliver Stone attached, one is typically required to take the view on history with a grain of salt. Nixon, JFK, Platoon and Salvador all feel like an encyclopedia is necessary to fact-check the proceedings. His movies that aren’t based as much on history, such as Talk Radio, Natural Born Killers, and Any Given Sunday, are all written from such a blatant political or social slant that if you don’t agree, the movie’s are going to do little more than get your blood boiling. 

With this knowledge in mind, I began Born on the 4th of July with obvious hesitance. Would Oliver Stone, an obviously leftist director handle the anti-war movement objectively? Would Tom Cruise, a man best known for roles in Top Gun and Risky Business be able to play Ron Kovic’s character believably? Finally, and most importantly, would a movie with such dour subject matter work in the theaters?

Yes, yes (depending on your taste), and yes. However, I believe that the reason the movie worked as well as it did is not so much a credit to Stone directing as it is Ron Kovic himself co-writing. Kovic had wanted his story in film since the day it hit bookstores in 1976. If Kovic is going to wait 14 years to tell his story, you had better be sure that he is going to make sure it gets told correctly. 

And perhaps that desperation is what made this work. That desire to get his story out there for those who didn’t read it. A chance for his story to reach those who 14 years before, were unwilling or unable to listen. Slant, bias and righteous anger can get you heard, but it won’t get you listened to. Perhaps both Stone and Kovic wanted to be sure this movie would inspire based on fact and truth, instead of emotion and fact-twisting. 

Regardless of reason, this one works. Not in the way that Platoon worked, as a heart-wrenching examination of Jung’s duality of man. Born on the Fourth Of July works as a genuine personal history of one man’s own personal war. Vietnam, hell. The war was back home.

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