Oliver Stone again shows America to itself in a way it won’t forget. His collaboration with Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic to depict Kovic’s odyssey from teenage true believer to wheel-chair-bound soldier in a very different war results in a gripping, devastating and telling film about the Vietnam era.
Stone creates a portrait of a fiercely pure-hearted boy who loved his country and believed that to serve it and to be a man was to fight a war. It turned out to be Vietnam, and that’s where the belief was shattered.
In ‘Nam, things go terribly wrong – young Sgt Kovic accidentally kills a fellow marine in battle. His attempted confession is harshly denied him by a c.o. Later, he’s shot in the foot, gets up for a gritty round of Sgt Rock grandstanding, and is hit again and paralyzed.
Stone drenches the picture in visceral reality, from the agonizing chaos of a field hospital to the dead stalemate of a Bronx veteran’s hospital infested with rats, drugs and the humiliation of lying helplessly in one’s own excrement.
The US Kovic left behind is unrecognizable, yet as he struggles uselessly to regain control of his body he remains steadfast in his ideas, shouting ‘Love it or leave it!’ at his peacenik brother (Josh Evans).
Tom Cruise, who takes Kovic from clean-cut eager teen to impassioned long-haired activist, is stunning. Dafoe, as a disabled vet hiding out in a Mexican beach town in a haze of mescal, whores and poker, gives a startling, razor-sharp performance.
1989: Best Director, Editing.
Nominations: Best Picture, Actor (Tom Cruise), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound