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Laramie Movie Scope:
Born on the Fourth of July

Deja Vietnam

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 8, 1990 -- The latest Vietnam film, ``Born on the Fourth of July'' has its moments, but fails to tell a coherent story because it tries to cover all the bases at once.

Tom Cruise turns in a powerhouse performance as Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic (who was a co-writer of the screenplay with director Oliver Stone). Willem Dafoe also has a memorable supporting role as another Vietnam veteran.

There are several moving sequences in the film. The first is the Hell on earth view of conditions in a New York Veteran's Administration Hospital. The second is a sexual scene between a Mexican whore and the paralyzed Kovic. The third is an intense emotional clash between Kovic and his parents. A fourth is another emotional clash between Cruise and Dafoe.

The actors almost uniformly do a great job, but the script they are working with seems to be a patchwork rather than a complete story.

Despite the emotional fireworks, the film failed to convince me that Kovic was a real human being and not just a movie character. There is little explanation for Kovic's conversion from hawk to dove.

The story seems to go down a lot of blind alleys and then stops, leaving bits of plot dangling. Conflicts begin, relationships begin, and are not resolved. In a few quick minutes, Kovic changes from a foul-mouthed drunken down-and-out slob to a neatly-dressed speaker before the Democratic National Convention in 1976. There is little explanation as to how this transformation was achieved.

This could have been a story about a man dragging himself up from the depths of despair to heights of glory, but it is not really here. Instead, we see explosions and angst, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

We don't really need all the scenes from Vietnam. Surely director Oliver Stone knows this, after all he brought us ``Platoon'' which tells that story better. As far as the story of a Vietnam veteran crusading against the war, that was told better in ``Coming Home.'' The heart of this film is different than those two films, but it tries to cover all that territory as well and does not succeed. To do that, it would have needed another hour of film time at least.

I felt shortchanged because the story told me obvious and superficial things about Vietnam and America, but failed to tell me very much about Kovic and what makes him tick. This is a sad case of a film with high and noble intentions that features great dramatic performances, but it ends up being a superficial epic, diluted, limited, and strangely unmoving.

On a scale of one to 10, this film rates a five.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)