Today is the birthday of Ron Kovic, the guy Tom Cruise played in one of our favourite films, Born On The Fourth Of July. We'd like to say happy birthday, Ronnie, and here are our 11 favourite things about the movie you inspired.
11) Tom Cruise's moustache. Not "brilliant" in the traditional sense but in the comedic sense. Cruise was nominated for an Oscar – his moustache wasn't, and is back working tables.
10) Bob Richardson's swoopin' camera. Okay, as director of photography, Bob's job would have been more about lighting but let's imagine he was in charge of the swoopin' camera, too, because it is on fire, especially when it cranes down on the boys playing soldiers in the woods in the opening scene. From then on, the camera's up and down more times than Elton John at a wedding.
9) The music. For our money, this is John Williams' best score. First, a lone, lamenting trumpet suggests the tragedy to come, and then the main theme sweeps in with soaring strings and a sense of hope and defiance. Just check out that glorious establishing shot in the grounds of Cruise's high school to see how awesomely the music and visuals work together. Fact: we've just had an accident in our pants.
8) Tom Berenger's speech. Berenger – so good in Stone's earlier film Platoon, of course – has a memorable cameo as a hard-as-nails recruiting sergeant. Spouting master screenwriter Stone's sensational dialogue, he challenges the boys at the school to follow in a great tradition of Marines who have fought in famous battles such as Tarawa, Belleau Wood and the Frozen Choisin Reservoir. Which we haven't heard of, but they sound really cool.
7) The opening titles.
Okay, this obviously isn't in the film. It's just a weird picture we found on the internet.
6) The Vietnam scenes. Although quite short, these will stick in your mind with their extreme colour scheme and the bit where Kovic is shot. As he lies helpless in the long grass, the soundtrack focuses just on the blood gurgling in his throat, while a shaky camera refuses to help us get our bearings.
5) The Mexico scenes. Disillusioned after the war, Cruise and his moustache decamp south of the border to hang out with some reprobates fellow veterans. Although paralysed, he does what he can in his first sexual experience – which is with a smoking hot Mexican prostitute. On one level, it's a poignant scene that shows us the sexual wonders that a healthy young man has sacrificed; on another level it's a great excuse to gawp at her world-class tandarelles.* Sadly we can find no pic of them on Google so you'll just have to rent the film for yourself. What do you think we are – the American Film Institute?
4) Tom Sizemore. The Daily News talent spotted Sizemore a few years before he hit the big time – you're welcome, America – so we are proud to be able to cast light on his small performance here as one of the degenerate veterans wiling away their lives with card games, hookers and booze in Mexico. Such a pity that the scandal-tarnished Sizemore is no longer a mainstay of top-notch movies.
3) Willem Dafoe. Defoe plays Charlie, another paralysed veteran, whom Cruise meets in his Mexico sojourn. The two team up for a journey that quickly terminates when they are booted out of a taxi and end up fighting each other in the dust. It's funny and desperate at the same time and Dafoe's endless intensity is actually quite funny.
2) The thrilling energy of the rally protests and riots. Just see it and you'll see what we mean.
1) The frickin' awful stuff. Whether it's the priest giving Cruise the last rites in the field hospital, or the mind-scarring scene in which Cruise's dialysis machine appears to be about to conk out in the middle of the night in a rundown veterans' hoptital where no one is going to be able to fix it – meaning he could lose his leg – Born On The Fourth of July excels at medical horror. The film's message is that Kovic's war started when he got home, and Stone shows this by not sparing us the details of paralysis, catheters, bodily functions and the resulting torments they inflict on the hero. Not the kind of stuff you can say you actually enjoy, but it's full-bodied cinema.
* Made-up wordTweet