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Born on the Fourth of July
  • Composed by John Williams
  • MCA / 57m (score 25m)

Oliver Stone’s moving, harrowing Born on the Fourth of July chronicles the Vietnam experience of Ron Kovic, scarred physically and emotionally by the conflict and facing his demons as he struggles to adapt back to life afterwards. It’s one of the director’s finest films and features an outstanding performance by Tom Cruise.

The film was the first of three collaborations between Stone and the great John Williams, all of which were extremely fruitful from a musical point of view. While the soundtrack album for Born on the Fourth of July gives us less than half an hour of what Williams wrote, it’s more than enough to show that this is some of the most emotional and powerful music the composer has written in his glorious career.

John Williams

There are three main ideas to the score, presented in turn in the first three cues. The “Prologue” showcases the talents of one of Williams’s frequent instrumental collaborators, the trumpeter Tim Morrison – the noble theme has such a purity of sound, accompanied by subtle synths and a sustained note from the strings.

The score’s other main theme is then introduced in “The Early Days, Massapequa, 1957” – a wash of strings, elegiac, play a passionate, stirring piece with great intensity. It stars quite dark before truly soaring away with a sense of bliss in its later stages. Finally we have some of the most dissonant music Williams had written for a film since he launched to the top of his field in the mid-1970s in the horrific “The Shooting of Wilson” – it is angry, growling music full of the horror of that war.

“Cua Viet River, Vietnam, 1968” opens with a reprise of the string theme, reaching fever pitch (with added trumpet) around the 1:30 mark before the pivotal moment of the film appears and the music goes as dark as night. The brass snarls, strings take on a hallucinatory feel which is then enhanced as various synth sounds are used including subtle sampled voices – it’s remarkably effective.

In “Homecoming” Williams offers a great range of feelings from hope to outright despair before the relatively brief score suite comes to a close with the extraordinary end title piece, one of the most moving pieces the composer has ever written, opening with a huge swathe of strings (I seem to remember reading that Williams recorded with a greatly-extended string section) and going over the score’s two main themes including the welcome return of Morrison, with a final virtuoso solo to close the piece.

This is such a mature, respectful work but at the same time offers some trademark memorable Williams melodies and it culminates in one of the greatest pieces of the composer’s career. The composer encapsulates the character’s emotional journey between extremes with such class; it’s a masterpiece.

Rating: ***** | |

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  1. ghostof82 (Reply) on Monday 6 July, 2020 at 16:56

    Was there much music missing from the album? Its funny, its only when I’m reminded of soundtrack albums like this one, 50/50 pop songs and score (the Always soundtrack album was another one) that I appreciate just how good we have it now. Hopefully if substantial music was missing it will be featured on an expanded release- surely something inevitable, someday. Great film and score, this.