Born on the Fourth of July (film)

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Born on the Fourth of July
Born On The 4th Of July.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Oliver Stone
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based on Born on the Fourth of July
by Ron Kovic
Starring
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Robert Richardson
Edited by
Production
company
Ixtlan Productions[1]
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • December 20, 1989 (1989-12-20)
Running time
144 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $17.8 million[1]
Box office $161 million[3]

Born on the Fourth of July is a 1989 American war drama film based on the 1976 autobiography of the same name by Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic. It is a dramatization of Kovic's life, primarily depicting his tours of duty during the war, his paralysis, and his transition to anti-war and pro-human rights activism. Directed by Oliver Stone, and written by Stone and Kovic, the film stars Tom Cruise in the leading role, with Kyra Sedgwick, Raymond J. Barry, Jerry Levine, Frank Whaley and Willem Dafoe in supporting roles. It is the second installment in Stone's trilogy of films about the Vietnam War, following Platoon (1986) and preceding Heaven & Earth (1993).[4]

Producer Martin Bregman acquired the film rights to the book in 1976 after Al Pacino expressed interest in portraying Kovic. Stone, also a Vietnam veteran, was hired by Bregman to co-write the screenplay with Kovic, after Stone optioned the book in 1978, the project became mired in development hell, with several studios and directors considered. The troubled pre-production resulted in Stone and Kovic putting the film on hold, after the success of Platoon in 1986, the project was revived at Universal Pictures, which initially allocated a $14 million budget. The film's principal photography commenced in October 1988 and concluded in December after 65 days, it was shot on locations in the Philippines, Texas and Inglewood, California. The production went over budget, and ended up costing $17.8 million.

Born on the Fourth of July received mostly positive reviews, and was named one of the "Top 10 Films of 1989" by the National Board of Review. It grossed over $161 million worldwide, and became the tenth-highest-grossing film of 1989. The film received many awards and nominations, including two Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Film Editing, and four Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama, Best Director and Best Screenplay.

Plot[edit]

In 1961, high school student Ron Kovic is inspired to join the United States Marine Corps after watching President John F. Kennedy's televised inaugural address. After attending an impassioned lecture by a recruiting gunnery sergeant visiting his school, he decides to enlist. Kovic goes to his prom one night before leaving for basic training, and dances with his best friend Donna.

In October 1967 in Vietnam, Kovic is now a Marine sergeant and on patrol during his second tour of duty, he and his unit kill a number of Vietnamese villagers, after mistaking them for enemy combatants. During the retreat, Kovic accidentally kills Wilson, a young private in his platoon; in January 1968, Kovic 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, Kovic desperately tries to walk again with the use of braces and crutches.

In 1969, Kovic returns home, permanently requiring the use of a wheelchair, after becoming disillusioned, he resorts to alcohol. In his absence, Kovic's younger brother Tommy has already become staunchly anti-war, remarking to Kovic his traumatic experiences while serving in Vietnam, during an Independence Day parade, Kovic is asked to give a speech, but is unable to finish and wheeled off stage. He shows signs of post-traumatic stress disorder after flinching in response to exploding firecrackers. Kovic 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.

After Kovic has a heated argument with his mother, his father decides to send him to Mexico. Kovic arrives in Villa Duce (Village of the Sun), a haven for paralyzed Vietnam veterans, he has his first sexual encounter with a prostitute, whom he falls for until he sees her with another customer. Kovic befriends Charlie, another veteran who uses a wheelchair, and the two decide to travel to another village, 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, and driven back to Villa Duce. Kovic travels to Atlanta, Georgia, where he visits Wilson's family and confesses his guilt.

In 1972, Kovic joins the organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and travels to the Republican National Convention in Miami, Florida. He tells a reporter about his experiences during the war and at the VA hospital, but his comments enrage Nixon supporters, his interview is cut short when guards remove him and the other veterans from the hall and attempt to have them arrested by police. The veterans manage to break free, regroup, and charge the hall again, though not successfully. Four years later, Kovic speaks at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, shortly after the publication of his autobiography Born on the Fourth of July.

Cast[edit]

Tom Berenger, who previously worked with director Oliver Stone on Platoon (1986), makes a cameo appearance as Gunnery Sergeant Hayes, a Marine recruiter.[5] Michael Wincott, who had a supporting role in Stone's Talk Radio (1988), plays a disabled veteran in Mexico. John C. McGinley, in his fourth collaboration with Stone, plays an official at the 1976 Democratic Convention.[6] Ed Lauter plays a legion commander attending an Independence Day parade.[1] Ron Kovic appears as a World War II veteran at the parade who flinches at the sound of exploding firecrackers, a reflex that Cruise's character adopts later in the film.[7]

Michael Compotaro plays William Charles Wilson, the young private who is accidentally killed by Kovic, and Lili Taylor plays Jamie Wilson, Wilson's sister.[1] William Baldwin, in his film debut, plays a member of Kovic's platoon.[1][8] Baldwin's brothers also appear in the film; Stephen Baldwin plays Billy Vorsovich,[9] and Daniel Baldwin appears as a veteran protesting at the 1976 Democratic Convention.[1] Rocky Carroll, also in his film debut, plays Willie, a nurse at the Bronx Veterans Hospital.[10] Bob Gunton plays a doctor in the hospital, and Vivica A. Fox plays a prostitute.[1] Appearing in scenes set in Syracuse, New York are Jake Weber as Donna's boyfriend, Reg E. Cathey as a speaker in protest of the Kent State shootings, the film's first assistant director Joseph Reidy as a student organizer at Syracuse University[1] and activist Abbie Hoffman as a protestor.[11] The film's military advisor Dale Dye appears as a colonel who is interviewed by a skeptical news reporter played by Stone in an uncredited appearance.[12]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

Director Oliver Stone in February 1987

Al Pacino expressed interest in portraying Ron Kovic after watching his televised appearance at the 1976 Democratic National Convention and reading his autobigraphy Born on the Fourth of July (1976). He met with Kovic in New York, where they discussed adapting the book to film.[13] Pacino later turned down starring roles in the Vietnam War-themed films Coming Home (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979), the former of which Kovic acted as a consultant,[13] the actor's manager Martin Bregman contacted Kovic's agent in September 1976, and entered into negotiations for the film rights. In October, Bregman's production company Artists Entertainment Complex acquired the rights for $150,000.[13] Filming was scheduled to begin in June 1977[13] with Paramount Pictures acting as distributor,[1] but the project fell apart. Bregman and Pacino were unhappy with the script,[13] and the studio dropped the film shortly after.[1]

In 1977,[13] Bregman hired Oliver Stone, also a Vietnam veteran, to help write the screenplay.[14] Stone and Kovic bonded over their experiences during the war, and they began work on the script in 1978 after Stone optioned the book.[1] Stone also discussed the adaptation with William Friedkin, who turned down directing duties in favor of helming The Brink's Job (1978).[14] Bregman secured financing from German investors,[14] and the film briefly continued development at United Artists[1] before moving to Orion Pictures. Daniel Petrie was hired to direct,[14] but several weeks before rehearsals, the investors withdrew from funding the film.[15] After the project moved to Universal Pictures, Bregman and Pacino left the film.[15] Bregman deemed the project impossible, and felt it would be overshadowed by the success of Coming Home.[1] Stone and Kovic grew frustrated with the troubled pre-production and dropped the project, though Stone expressed his hope to return and make the film at a later time.[16]

In 1986, following the success of Stone's Vietnam War drama Platoon, Tom Pollock, president of Universal, read Stone and Kovic's script and expressed interest in producing it;[16] in May 1988, Hemdale Film Corporation entered into negotiations to finance the film with a $20 million budget.[1] The project was picked up by Universal after Pollock proposed to Stone a budget of $14 million;[16] in June 1988, Stone was announced as the film's director.[17] He and Kovic later revised the script, adding the latter's appearance at the 1976 Democratic Convention.[18] Stone also produced the film, with his Ixtlan Productions banner enlisted as a production company.[19]

Casting[edit]

Tom Cruise, who portrays Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic.

One of Universal's conditions for financing the film was that a major star had to appear in the lead role. Sean Penn, Charlie Sheen and Nicolas Cage were among those considered to portray Kovic.[20] In 1987, Stone's agent Paula Wagner had shown Platoon to her client Tom Cruise, after he had expressed interest in working with the director.[18] Cruise met with Stone to discuss the role in January 1988,[16] and his casting was confirmed in June of that year,[17] the studio was concerned of Cruise appearing in a dramatic role.[21] Kovic was especially wary, until the actor visited him at his home in Massapequa, Long Island, New York.[16]

Cruise spent one year preparing for the role,[22] he went to several veterans' hospitals, read various books on the Vietnam War and practiced riding in a wheelchair.[23] Kovic visited the set daily and would often participate in rehearsals with Cruise;[1] in July 1989,[24] he awarded Cruise his Bronze Star Medal in praise of the actor's commitment to the role.[25] Abbie Hoffman, a Yippie activist, acted as a consultant and educated the cast about the peace movement. The film is dedicated to Hoffman, who died on April 12, 1989.[1]

According to casting directors Risa Bramon Garcia and Billy Hopkins, the production employed more than 200 actors in speaking roles, they auditioned 2,000 child actors in Massapequa, and 8,000 extras for scenes shot in Dallas, Texas.[26] To prepare the actors portraying Marines, military advisor Dale Dye organized one-week training missions, one in the United States, and the other in the Philippines where the battle sequences were to be filmed.[1][27]

Filming[edit]

Principal photography was scheduled to begin in September 1988, but did not commence until mid-October of that year.[1] The production was given an initial budget of $14 million to produce the film, but it went over budget;[1] part way through filming, the filmmakers negotiated a $3.8 million increase.[20] The final production budget was $17.8 million.[1][28] Because of the high costs, both Stone and Cruise chose to waive their salaries, opting to instead receive a percentage of the box office gross.[1][28][21] The film was cinematographer Robert Richardson's fifth colloboration with Stone, and their first to be shot in the anamorphic format,[19] they utilized a variety of film stocks, including 16 mm, Super 16mm and 35 mm.[29][30]

Filming began in Dallas, Texas,[31] which doubled for scenes set in Massapequa, Long Island, New York, for the Fourth of July parade sequences, student protests and presidential conventions, the production employed nearly 12,000 extras from the National Paralysis Foundation, and the Campfire Girls and American Legion organizations.[1] The Dallas Convention Center was used to re-create the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami, Florida. The filmmakers also shot scenes at the Parkland Memorial Hospital, which stood in for the Bronx Veterans Hospital in New York,[1] they also filmed on soundstages at Los Colinas Studios in Irving, Texas.[30]

The Philippines stood in for scenes set in Vietnam and Mexico.[1] Stone originally wanted to shoot on location in Vietnam but was unable to do so, as diplomatic relations between that country and the United States had not been resolved.[32] Principal photography concluded in December 1988, after 65 days of filming.[20][23][31]

After viewing a rough cut of the film, Universal demanded that the ending be reshot,[1] the sequence, which depicted Kovic's appearance at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, had originally been shot in Dallas, with 600 extras. Upon viewing the filmed footage, the studio requested that Stone make the sequence "bigger and better".[33] Stone and Cruise reshot the scene in one day in July 1989, with 6,000 extras.[33] Filming took place at the The Forum indoor arena in Inglewood, California, with a $500,000 budget.[1]

Music[edit]

The score was composed by John Williams, with Timothy Morrison, a member of the Boston Pops Orchestra, acting as trumpeter.[34] On scoring the film, Williams stated, "I knew immediately I would want a string orchestra to sing in opposition to all the realism on the screen, and then the idea came to have a solo trumpet — not a military trumpet, but an American trumpet, to recall the happy youth of this boy."[34] The motion picture soundtrack album was released on December 19, 1989, by MCA Records; in addition to Williams's score, it features eight pre-existing songs that appear in the film: "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall" by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, "Born on the Bayou" by The Broken Homes, "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison, "American Pie" by Don McLean, "My Girl" by The Temptations, "Soldier Boy" by The Shirelles, "Venus" by Frankie Avalon, and "Moon River" by Henry Mancini.[1][35] AllMusic's Tavia Hobbart wrote that the score "literally haunts you as you watch the movie. It's just as effective here."[36] Stephen Holden of The New York Times stated, "Mr. Williams's themes are melodically strong enough so that one could imagine them being developed into a full-blown symphonic poem."[37]

Release[edit]

Born on the Fourth of July was given a platform release. It had a limited theatrical run in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto on December 20, 1989[1] before opening nationwide on January 5, 1990.[3] A heavily edited version of the film was scheduled for broadcast on CBS in early 1991, but was shelved by the network's executives due to the impending Persian Gulf War, the film had its network premiere on January 21, 1992.[1][38]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $172,021 on its first week of limited release, an average of $34,404 per theatre. More theatres were added on the following weekend, and it grossed a further $61,529 in its second weekend, with an overall gross of $937,946.[39]

Released to 1,310 theaters in the United States and Canada, the film grossed $11,023,650 on its opening weekend of wide release, securing the number one position at the box office,[39][40] it saw a small increase in attendance in its second weekend, but remained in first place and earned $8,028,075, a -27.2% overall decrease from the previous weekend.[39][41] The film stayed in first place on its third weekend, and grossed an additional $$6,228,360 for an overall gross of $32,607,294.[42]

By its fourth weekend, the film had dropped to second place in the top-ten rankings, earning $4,640,940 for an overall gross of $39,160,104,[39][43] the following week, it moved to third place, grossing an additional $4,012,085.[39][44] The film moved to fourth place and earned $3,004,400 on its sixth weekend of general release,[39][45] it stayed in fifth place for the next three weekends, and by March 4, 1990, the film had an overall gross of $59,673,354.[39][46]

Born on the Fourth of July grossed $70,001,698 in North America[3] ($151,650,800 when adjusted for inflation),[47] and $91 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $161,001,698.[3] In the United States and Canada, it was the seventeenth highest-grossing film of 1989,[48] and the fourth highest grossing R-rated film released that year.[49] Worldwide, it was the tenth highest-grossing film of 1989,[50] as well as Universal's second highest-grossing film released that year, behind Back to the Future Part II.[51]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on VHS on August 9, 1990,[52] and DVD on January 16, 2001. The DVD release was a part of the "Oliver Stone Collection", a box set of films directed by Stone.[53] Special features on the disc include an audio commentary by Stone, production notes, and cast and crew profiles.[54] A Special Edition DVD was released on October 5, 2010, containing the film, the commentary by Stone, as well as archive news footage from NBC News,[55] the film was released on HD DVD on June 12, 2007,[56] and on Blu-ray disc on July 3, 2012. The Blu-ray presents the film in 1080p high definition, and contains all the additional materials found on the Special Edition DVD.[57]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

Ron Kovic attending the 62nd Academy Awards on March 26, 1990. He and Stone received an Oscar nomination Best Adapted Screenplay, and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay.

The film received mostly positive reviews.[1] Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes sampled 37 reviews, and gave the film a score of 90%, with an average score of 7.4 out of 10. The website's consensus reads, "Led by an unforgettable performance from Tom Cruise, Born on the Fourth of July finds director Oliver Stone tackling thought-provoking subject matter with ambitious élan."[58] Another review aggregator, Metacritic, assigned the film a weighted average score of 75 out of 100 based on 16 reviews from critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[59] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.[60]

David Denby of New York magazine, stated that the film was "a relentless but often powerful and heartbreaking peice of work, dominated by Tom Cruise's impassioned performance."[61] Time magazine's Richard Corliss wrote that "The actor remakes himself in the film, trashing preconceptions, showing a range that astonishes."[25] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone also commended Cruise's performance.[62][63][64] Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "It's the most ambitious nondocumentary film yet made about the entire Vietnam experience."[65] Janet Maslin, also writing for The New York Times, stated, " ... Mr. Stone reaches out instantly to his audience's gut-level emotions and sustains a walloping impact for two and a half hours."[66] Internet reviewer James Berardinelli felt that the film's greatest accomplishment was "its contrasting of the glorious illusion of war as seen from thousands of miles away to the barbarity of it up-close."[67]

Despite the majority of praise, the film was not without its detractors. The Washington Post released two negative reviews; Hal Hinson called the film "hysterical and overbearing and alienating",[68] while Desson Howe was critical of Cruise's "whiny" performance.[69] Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times felt that the actor's portrayal of Kovic was lacking in character development.[70] Jonathan Rosenbaum derided the storytelling for "brimming with false uplift",[71] and Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly called the film "2 1/2 hours of self-righteousness masquerading as art."[72] Pauline Kael of The New Yorker wrote, "It's almost inconceivable that Ron Kovic was as innocent as the movie and the 1976 autobiography on which it's based make him out to be ... Kovic's book is simple and explicit; he states his case in plain, angry words. Stone's movie yells at you for two hours and twenty-five minutes."[73]

Accolades[edit]

The film received various awards and nominations, with particular recognition for itself, the screenplay, Cruise's performance, Stone's direction and the score by John Williams, the National Board of Review named it one of the "Top 10 Films of 1989", ranking it at number one.[74] The film received five Golden Globe Award nominations[75] and won four for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director and Best Screenplay, while Williams was nominated for Best Original Score.[76]

In February 1990, the film competed for the Golden Bear at the 40th Berlin International Film Festival, but lost to the American film Music Box (1990) and Czech film Larks on a String (1969).[77] That same month, the film garnered eight Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor; its closest rival was Driving Miss Daisy, which received nine nominations.[78] At the 62nd Oscars, Stone won a second Academy Award for Best Director;[79] he had previously won the award for Platoon.[80] The film also won for Best Film Editing,[79] at the 44th British Academy Film Awards in 1991, the film received two nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Adapted Screenplay, but did not win in either category.[81]

Award Date or year of ceremony Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards March 26, 1990 Best Picture A. Kitman Ho, Oliver Stone Nominated [79]
Best Director Oliver Stone Won
Best Actor Tom Cruise Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Oliver Stone, Ron Kovic Nominated
Best Cinematography Robert Richardson Nominated
Best Sound Mixing Michael Minkler, Gregory H. Watkins, Wylie Stateman, and Tod A. Maitland Nominated
Best Film Editing David Brenner, Joe Hutshing Won
Best Original Score John Williams Nominated
American Film Institute 1998 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies ———— Nominated [82]
2005 AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Ron Kovic (portrayed by Tom Cruise) Nominated [83]
AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers ———— Nominated [84]
2007 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) ———— Nominated [85]
American Society of Cinematographers Awards 1989 Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases Robert Richardson Nominated [86]
Artios Awards 1990 Best Casting for Feature Film, Drama Risa Bramon Garcia, Billy Hopkins Nominated [87]
Berlin International Film Festival February 1990 Golden Bear Oliver Stone Nominated [77] [88]
British Academy Film Awards 1991 Best Actor in a Leading Role Tom Cruise Nominated [81]
Best Adapted Screenplay Oliver Stone, Ron Kovic Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards 1989 Outstanding Directing – Feature Film Oliver Stone Won [89]
Golden Globe Awards January 21, 1990 Best Motion Picture – Drama ———— Won [75][76]
Best Director Oliver Stone Won
Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Tom Cruise Won
Best Screenplay Oliver Stone, Ron Kovic Won
Best Original Score John Williams Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Awards 1989 Best Director Oliver Stone (Runner-up) Won [90]
Best Cinematography Robert Richardson (Runner-up) Won
National Board of Review 1989 Top 10 Films ———— Won [74]
National Society of Film Critics Awards 1989 Best Actor Tom Cruise (Third place) Won [91]
Writers Guild of America Awards 1989 Best Adapted Screenplay Oliver Stone, Ron Kovic Nominated [92]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

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  7. ^ Lavington 2011, p. 197.
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  66. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 31, 1989). "Film Film View: Oliver Stone Takes Aim At the Viewer's Viscera". The New York Times. Retrieved June 13, 2018. 
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