The autobiography of Vietnam War Vet. Ron Kovic, Born on the Fourth of July was published in 1976. In 1989, the film version directed by Oliver Stone and starring Tom Cruise as Kovic was released. Stone won his second Oscar as director, his third overall, and Cruise got his first Oscar nomination. This is also his second film about The Vietnam War, following Platoon and followed by Heaven & Earth. These three films are often said to form a "trilogy", although they merely share subject matter and do not take place in a shared continuity.
Ron Kovic, a young man from Long Island, goes off to fight in Vietnam. During his second tour of duty, Kovic accidentally kills a fellow soldier, Private Wilson, which deeply scars him emotionally. During a firefight, Kovic is permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Once he is discharged, Kovic comes home a changed man. He feels that his country hasn't done much of anything to help his fellow Vietnam veterans. Subsequently, he joins the anti-war movement. And goes to Mexico.
This work features examples of:
- Accidental Murder: Shortly after being deployed in 'Nam and in a firefight against the Vietcong, Ron ends up accidentally shooting Wilson, a young private, an act which had him becoming The Atoner after returning to America and seeking Wilson's family for forgiveness.
- Adaptation Expansion: While the original book, written in 1974, ends with the 1972 Miami riots, the film adaption has Kovic speaking at the 1976 Democratic convention, as well as signing the titular biography that is the film's namesake.
- Anachronic Order: The book starts off in the middle of The Vietnam War, then jumps back to the author's childhood to early adulthood, then jumps to the period after he has been discharged, then jumps back to the period leading up to where he started the story in Vietnam.
- Author Tract: Probably Oliver Stone's most preachy film. Quentin Tarantino once quipped that everything coming out of Tom Cruise's mouth in the film is Anvilicious.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Lots of them. There are a couple of scenes where that's almost the entire dialogue.
- Every Helicopter Is a Huey
- Jerkass Has a Point: Ron's friend Stevie is a selfish and insensitive sleaze but he was the only one of his friends and seemingly one of the few people in town not to buy into the macho military culture that caused Ron and others to enlist and end up paralyzed, traumatized or dead as well as to accurately see through the scaremongering about communism and Vietnam.
- Nothing but Hits: "Rock Around the Clock" is heard during a military parade in Ron's hometown in 1956.
- Only Sane Man: Stevie is the only one of Ron's friends who doesn't buy into the macho Marine rhetoric or the fear mongering about communism and to see the Vietnam War as a terrible idea.
- Physical Therapy Plot: Subverted. After getting shot (which damages his spine) during a tour in Vietnam, Ron Kovic spends months at a poorly-run Veterans' Hospital. He attempts to learn how to walk again with his crutches and braces, despite the doctors' warnings. He ends up having a bad fall that causes a fracture on his femur. He ends up back in bed, fighting with the staff over amputating his legs. When Ron finally comes back home, he spends the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
- Police Brutality: In every protest scene, the police attack the protesters with batons flying even if they're completely peaceful, and the Kent State incident (where four were shot) gets mentioned too.
- Semper Fi: Averted. Ron believes the Marines to be this when he enlists. Beginning with the Private Wilson incident, and the X/O refusing to help him cope with it, he realizes it's anything but.
- Significant Birth Date: Ron Kovic was born on July 4th, 1946; hence, the title of the book and film.
- Strawman Political: Thankfully averted, for both ends of the spectrum...although the rather simplistic characterization of Kovic's religiously-oriented mother comes close....
- Thematic Series: Part of Oliver Stone's series of Vietnam War films that started with Platoon and ended with Heaven & Earth.
- War Is Glorious: Ron and his friends believe this at the start, eager to fight in Vietnam and be part of history. They're disabused of this notion very quickly.
- War Is Hell: Very much so. The few battle scenes we see make clear just how brutal war is and even worse is how the people Ron looks to for guidance are more interested in looking out for themselves.