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Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Oliver Stone had already ploughed his own personal experiences into his Oscar-winning Platoon, a grunt’s eye view of the Vietnam conflict, but when he returned to the subject he took up the true story of Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise), an idealistic patriot who enlisted in the Marines in 1964 at the age of 18 and came home from Vietnam paralysed and beginning to see through the fog of war.

On his second tour of duty in Vietnam, Kovic’s unit kills several Vietnamese civilians, mistakenly believing them to be Viet Cong. Kovic then accidentally kills a member of his own platoon, a new arrival named Wilson (Michael Compotaro).

Four months later, during the Tet Offensive, Kovic is critically wounded in a firefight. Rendered a paraplegic, he spends several months recovering at a decrepit, rat-infested Veterans Administration (VA) hospital in the Bronx.

Returning home disabled in 1969, Kovic succumbs to despair and alcoholism. During a Fourth of July parade, Kovic shows signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when he is deeply unnerved by the sound of firecrackers exploding. Asked to give a speech, he is overcome by emotion and is forced to leave the stage.

Kovic meets up with a high school friend, Timmy Burns (Frank Whaley) – also an injured serviceman – and swaps stories about wartime experiences. Later, Kovic visits his old high school sweetheart Donna at her college in Syracuse, New York, but the two are separated as she and other student demonstrators are arrested for protesting against the Vietnam War.

Back home, Kovic finds himself in a bar, close to blows with a WWII veteran. Afterwards, Kovic argues passionately with his mother, and his father sends him to Mexico.

He arrives in “The Village of the Sun” (the town of Ajijic in the state of Jalisco), a safe space for injured Vietnam veterans. There Kovic has his initial sexual encounter with a prostitute and befriends another wheelchair-bound veteran named Charlie (Willem Dafoe).

Going back to Long Island, Kovic visits Wilson’s parents and widow and confesses his responsibility for Wilsons death. He then joins Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and attends the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami.

He shares his Vietnam experience with a reporter and speaks out against the war, enraging the Nixon supporters at the convention, where security guards remove him from the hall.

Four years later Kovic’s struggles are finally vindicated when he is invited to speak at the 1976 Democratic National Convention and publishes his autobiography, Born on the Fourth of July.

Released just before Christmas 1989, Born on the Fourth of July grossed $5.3 million by the third week of its run, ranking #1 at the box office. The film went on to earn $70 million domestically and $91 million overseas for a total of $161 million in worldwide ticket sales.

Arguably, Tom Cruise has never been better than he is as Kovic, effortlessly shifting from American everyman to radicalised protestor. The real Ron Kovic gave Tom Cruise his Bronze Star for his performance in this movie.

Ron Kovic
Tom Cruise
Mr Kovic
Raymond J. Barry
Mrs Kovic
Caroline Kava
Tommy Kovic
Josh Evans
Jimmy Kovic
Jamie Talisman
Suzanne Kovic
Anne Bobby
Patty Kovic
Samantha Larkin
Donna
Kyra Sedgwick
Recruiting Gunnery Sgt. Hayes
Tom Berenger
Timmy
Frank Whaley
Steve Boyer
Jerry Levine
Joey Walsh
Richard Panebianco
Tommy Finnelli
Rob Camilletti
Billy Vorsovich
Stephen Baldwin
Danny Fantozzi
Michael McTighe
Recruiting Sgt. Bowers
Richard Haus
Jackie Kovic
Kevin Harvey Morse
Young Ron
Bryan Larkin
Legion Commander
Ed Lauter

Director
Oliver Stone