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Born on the Fourth of July: Special Edition

Born on the Fourth of July finds Oliver Stone once again in bombast mode. What restrains the usually energetic Stone from the kind of narrative excesses and heavy symbolism found in Talk Radio and Wall Street is the fact that the movie is based on a true story, and adherence to some form of reality is one of the things that keeps Stone in line. Ron Kovic, the film's subject, really was born on the fourth of July. He was raised in a middle class family in the '50s on Long Island; his father (Raymond J. Barry) was a rather retiring grocery store manager; his Catholic mother (Caroline Kava) was something of a shrew, easily disappointed in her family, and always pushing her son Ron (Tom Cruise) to win at sports and to be patriotic. Dutifully, Kovic joined the Marines, where he proceeded to get shot in Vietnam and lose the use of his legs. The rest of the film charts his evolution from patriotism, to disappointment in the treatment of Vets, to outright protest against the war. It's another Vietnam film from Stone, but more indirect; it's mostly about the war back home. What saves Born on the Fourth of July from utter bombast is the director's unflinching chronicling of Kovic's life, such as his almost life-threatening experiences in a Vet's hospital. The only aspect of Kovic's experiences Stone seems to have made up or condensed are his relationship with a high school sweetheart (Kyra Sedgewick), and a post-Vietnam visit to the family of a fellow soldier whom Kovic may have killed with friendly fire. Born on the Fourth of July is a powerful movie if you are in the mood to be outraged all over again by things you are already convinced are wrong, but the real reason to see it is for Cruise's performance as Kovic, and Willem Dafoe is also very good as another disabled soldier Kovic meets in Mexico. Universal's Born on the Fourth of July: Special Edition, which improves upon their previous release, comes with a modicum of extras. The source print for this widescreen transfer (2.35:1) is not the best in the world, showing dust, marks, scratches, and graininess. Audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1. The most significant extra on the disc is an audio commentary by Stone. There are no revelations herein, but his verbiage is carefully timed to the visuals to bring viewers' attention to several spectacular shots as they are happening, shots that otherwise might have gone by too fast. Stone also explains how he made the Vietnam sequences visually distinct from those in Platoon or Heaven and Earth, and he describes his interpretation of Kovic's personality, revealing that he also met Kovic's mother — which goes a long way, Stone says, in explaining Kovic's personality. The disc also has production info and talent files on most of the cast and on Stone. The static menu offers a 16-chapter selection. Keep case.
—D.K. Holm

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