Haunting and Disturbing
By John H Glen
from London, England
, 30 Jul 2004
First, for those who think that Tom Cruise is just another pretty boy, this movie sets that mistaken view to rest. He is nothing short of dazzling in a role that is extremely demanding, physically, mentally, artistically, and emotionally. I don't see how anybody could play that role and still be the same person.
secondly, Stone's handling of the sex life of Vietnam Veterans in wheelchairs is entirely without sentimentality. There are no rose petals and no soft pedalling. There was no Jane Fonda, as in Coming Home, to play an angel of love. Instead the high school girl friend justifiably went her own way, and love became something you bought if you could afford it.
Thirdly, Stone's portrayal of America, and this movie in reality is about America, from the 1950s to the 1970s, from the simplicity of childhood war games and 4th of July parades down Main street USA to having your guts spill out in a foreign land and your comrades being sent home in body bags, was as ineffaceable as black ink on white paper. He takes us from pleased mothers and fathers and patriotic homilies to the discreditable disregard in our Veteran's hospitals to the bloody clashes between anti-war demonstrators and the police outside convention halls where revelling conventioneers wave flags and mouth spurious slogans.
I have seen most of Stone's work and as far as faithfulness to genuine detail and continuous attentiveness, this is his best. There are a thousand facts that Stone got exactly right, from Dalton Trumbo's paperback novel of a paraplegic from WW I, Johnny Got His Gun, that sat on a tray near Kovic's hospital bed, to the black medic telling him that there was a more important war going on at the same time as the Vietnam war, namely the civil rights movement, to a mother throwing her son out of the house when he no longer fulfilled her trophy case vision of what her son ought to be, to Willem Dafoe?s remark about what you have to do sexually when nothing in the middle moves.
Also striking were some of the scenes. The confession scene at the home of the boy Kovic accidentally shot; the Mexican brothel scene of sex/love desperation, the drunken scene at the pool hall bar and the pretty girl's face he touches, and then the drunken, hate-filled rage against his mother, and of course the savage hospital scenes, these and some others were deeply moving.
Yes, predictably, Oliver Stone's political message weighed heavily upon his artistic purpose. Straight-laced conservatives will find his portrait of America one-sided and offensive and something they'd rather forget. But I imagine that the guys, who fought in Vietnam and managed to get back somehow and see this movie, will find it redeeming. Certainly to watch Ron Kovic, just an ordinary Joe who believed in his country and the sentiments of John Wayne movies and comic book heroics, go from a depressed, enraged, drug-addled waste of a human being to an enlightened, focused, articulate, and ultimately triumphant spokesman for the anti-war movement, for veterans, and the disabled was wonderful to see. As Stone reminds us, Kovic really did become the hero that his misguided mother dreamed he would be.
No previous Vietnam War movie haunts me like this one. There is something about coming back less than whole that is worse than not coming back at all that eats away at our perception. And yet in the end there is here displayed the triumph of the human will and a story about how a man might find redemption in the most appalling of situations.
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