Born on the Fourth of July

Teenager Ron Kovic joined the marines, went to Vietnam to be a hero and came back in a wheelchair. In his 1976 autobiography, Kovic told how his illusions about God, country and manhood were shattered along with his spinal cord. As Kovic, Tom Cruise gives an astounding, deeply felt performance. For over two hours, under the pile-driving direction of Oliver Stone (Platoon), Cruise takes us on a grueling journey. The film spans three decades, moving Kovic through adolescence, Vietnam, therapy and his later involvement with the antiwar movement, which led to his becoming a spokesman for disabled veterans. That's a lot to cram in. The transitions blur, events are compressed, and subsidiary characters are swallowed up in the vast kaleidoscope. But Stone has found in Cruise the ideal actor to anchor the movie with simplicity and strength. Together they do more than show what happened to Kovic. Their fervent, consistently gripping film shows why it still urgently matters.

From The Archives Issue 402: August 18, 1983