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Going back and watching Salvador makes me realize how long it's been since
Oliver Stone has been on his game. How
long has it been since he made a film that actually required the audience
think. It's not that he's suddenly become loud and bombastic, it's that
suddenly stopped doing anything genuinely provocative. Natural Born
for example, is *not* a provocative film. It's a loud and angry and
aggressive film. However, the film produced only attacks on the filmmaker
(or rather excessive adulation for Stone) and never really stimulated an
intelligent national debate. But Salvador, based on the true experiences of
photojournalist Rick Boyle, is Stone at his best. It's complicated and full
of the mixture of regret, guilt, nostalgia, and outrage that fill the
director's landmarks (JFK or Platoon, for example). After all of the
violence and horror, it becomes a film about representations of reality and
the different reasons for distorting truth.
Rick Boyle (James Woods) is at the end of his rope. He's unemployed, his wife just left him. And he's just been thrown in jail for a litany of driving violations. After getting bailed out by his tubby friend Doctor Rock (James Belushi in the role he was probably born to play), he hops in his unregistered car that he isn't licensed to drive, and he heads south to El Salvador. His only companions are Doctor Jack, his alcohol, and his drugs on a journey that can't help but be likened to the drive to Vegas in Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. When he arrives in El Salvador, he finds the country torn apart with leftist rebels fleeing to the hills and a country braced for a bloody "democratic" election in which a murderous American puppet general will likely be elected. Boyle tries to use his connections to get a press pass and get one last shot to become a success. This is made easier by the Salvadorian woman who loves him and the ace photographer who lends him a hand (John Savage).
But not everybody in El Salvador is supportive of the loose cannon journalist. There's the colonel who thinks he's a communist, the military attache who's using him for information, and the local military forces who resent the way Boyle depicted them in a previous campaign. The audience is supposed to be disgusted by the way that Boyle treats himself and those he loves, but there's one important fact that's repeated over and over: Boyle was the last journalist out of Cambodia. We know that he stayed to help save people. And it's just a matter of time before he becomes even more personally invested in what's happening in Central America. And that's when things go really crazy.
The world of photojournalism depicted in the film is one step from public relations and sometimes not even that. Boyle's major supported among the military leaders is a general about whom Boyle had written a glowing profile. Boyle is also able to curry favor by showing his pictures to American military leaders before trying to publish them. The question that comes up, of course, is why are the pictures being taken at all and how can anybody ever know the truth of any war. Journalists, like everybody else, get caught up in their surroundings. Boyle may be supporting the right side in El Salvador, but he admits to having favored Pol Pot for a brief period years earlier. The difference between canonizing a truly noble leader (like the assassinated Archbishop Romero) and elevating a genocidal lunatic is a small one. Salvador calls into question how American audiences can ever know who to trust in a media covered war. On one hand we have Pauline Axelrod (Valerie Wildman) appearing on air because she's pretty and blond even though she just accepts the official statements as truth. Then there's also Savage's journalist who's willing to do anything to get the perfect shot, to create an image that shows both the conflict and the reasons behind it in a single frame. Idealism and self preservation are competing instincts.
The film is pure Stone. The battle sequences are tense and tightly edited and the dialogue (which Stone cowrote with Rick Boyle) is rippingly good, for the most part. Then again, its misogyny is almost worn as a gold star, female characters are, as always, Madonnas or whores, and a rape scene is fairly exploitative. Also in a conversation between Boyle and a conservative US Colonel, Stone unpacks entirely too much of his personal ideology in a series of monologues. The message of the film, about not wanted to create another Vietnam and liberalism not being the same as Communism is much too literally articulated.
The film basically hinges on Woods's wonderful performance. His typical manic energy perfectly fits his character's earliest incarnation, but as Boyle becomes more troubled by what he sees around him, Woods's performance becomes deeper, richer, and more internalized. The rest of the cast has less to do and thus can't really be blamed for not standing out. Belushi's Doctor Jack has "Fictitious Composite Character" written all over him. Basically we watch as his story arc goes in opposite directions from Woods's at all times.
Salvador is perhaps the only film to ever express nostalgia for Jimmy Carter. I like that. I like that it's challenging, dogmatic, but rarely insults my intelligence by saying things that I already know. This is a very fine 8/10 film.
Having seen this movie more than ten times, over the last decade and
one half, it as taken on many shades of meaning, but it continues to
show how the more things change the more they stay the same. The
reporter's sense of gathering news seems to be one of self-sacrifice
and a search for truth however, the director shows how the American
reporter possesses a quixotic sense of right and wrong that is
overwhelmed by self-interest and self-indulgence not unlike the
American public. He is unable to report with the clarity of a John
Reed. Other points of interest are the visuals of the local life of
peasants, who just want to live. They are shown to be no different than
the peasants of Chile or Vietnam. Contrasting this life is the ruling
elite that manipulates the meaning of the simple needs of the peasants
into an ideology that threatens the middle class and the business
interests that exploit the resources of this third world country. When
the environment becomes so intolerable that the peasants begin to
revolt, the forces of the ruling elite call on the American military
might to help quell the rebellion. Here we discover the atrocities that
become the daily part of life and bring the audience emotions out of
its dispassionate viewpoint into one that feels the helplessness of a
It seems to me that the director was more into making a movie than selling tickets. For this we are grateful. This movie is as fresh with insight and meaning as it was when it was released. Dr. Zim Robert
Salvador is Oliver's Stone's best movie. This was a low budget movie and the last one Stone made before Platoon. This is a guerilla movie in the true sense of the work. A movie made about a guerilla revolt in El Salvador and one American journalist's story during that revolution; and made on in a guerilla style with a lot of hand-helded shots and local Mexican atmosphere and actors. James Wood and Jim Belushi are excellent. Except for the politics and an acid trip scene, this film is very gritty and real. Now it does have a frat boy road trip aspect, but that only adds a comic touch that is almost endearing at times. Set against the brutality of the civil war of El Salvador, the comedy helps keep the movie from being overly harsh and pedantic, which Mr. Stone tends to want to lean towards in portraying the politics of the time and place. Thankfully Mr. Stone is more interesting in entertaining then preaching in this movie, and with the excellent acting accomplishes this goal.
With a touch of the Hunter Thompsons, Oliver Stone created a quality
film about reporter Richard Boyle and his troubles in El Salvador
during a civil war that breaks out around him.
Compared to other Stone films, I think this is his best, he has managed to take the true story of Boyle and craft it into a film in which you actually care about the on-screen characters, something he lost later on.
The performances are classic; James Woods, he was clearly on edge and it shows, he produces one of his finest to date. Doc would really have been only a fringe character if it wasn't for the fact he was played by James Belushie in fine form, he fits into the role of the degenerate with ease, he begins as somewhat uptight, but slowly dissolves into the seedy culture of Salvador in contrast to Boyle being ostracised by everyone he deals with.
As with most Stone biopics, there is an element of "you weren't there man!" anger as he unleashed another tirade against the US government and military through this film. You can take that as you like, what I found most fascinating about this film is the similarity to Fear and Loathing, right down to the battered red car they make most of the journey in. I found it fascinating that Boyle could live the kind of story that Thompson made his name creating, the two would make a cracking team, should they not die getting the story, just make it up.
If you're undecided on Olly Stone, but haven't seen this film, give it a try before you decide whether he is an overrated paranoid madman or an impassioned filmmaker with a message in there somewhere if you can get past all the shouting.
In the beginning the viewer thinks he has stumbled upon a road-trip gone wrong movie; this initial impression is strengthened by the presence of James Belushi, in a fantastic comedic/dramatic role. However, Stone ratchets up the tension in this political thriller as events escalate and force the protagonists to make difficult choices and take sides... an incredible film and memorable performances by Belushi and James Woods, who plays the ultimate cynic. a must see film.
Salvador is a revelation. incredible movie about the horrors of US
intervention in the third world.
however, stone would have been better off simply showing the situation instead of subjecting the viewer to long drawn out monologues. i think most viewers groaned when michael douglas launched into his "So Bud, do you think we're living in a democracy" speech in WALLSTREET, and there are a few such sermons here.
stone should watch THREE KINGS to see how it's done. let the viewer make his own conclusions instead of pounding him over the head with pre-fab ones.
for those who think the interventions in salvador, Vietnam, cambodia, laos, philippines, etc were justified, they probably have not been to any of these places. granted it was the cold war... which is the excuse that is generally used... but the cold war is over and US policy has not changed in the slightest. the US is always at war, the cold war, the war on drugs, the war on terror, it goes on and on.
anyone with a conscience should see SALVADOR, the world's first (and last?) political roadtrip movie. this is belushi's and woods' finest hour.
The cinematic equivalent of being busted in the chops over and over
again until you can only fall, this, along with his TALK RADIO, is
Oliver Stone's masterpiece.
It is one of the most driven dramas I have ever witnessed, a work propelled by anger, a burning sense of justice and fiery humanism. It depicts a corrupt, murdering regime with savage focus and makes no dramatic concessions to the incendiary material.
Financed slightly outside the Hollywood system, it boasts a dozen extraordinary performances and a brand of camera-work (by Stone regular Robert Richardson) that expertly marries documentary-style coverage to classic composition.
SALVADOR has so much to say, but it concludes having not said it all because it hasn't the time.
It's quite incredible.
Before i watched this movie i knew nothing about the troubles in El Salvador.This opened my eyes to the rein of terror that went on there ( And still does as far as i know). Salvador is a very Graphic movie that does not shirk on showing the bloodshed and trauma suffered. It is a superb debut movie by Oliver Stone which only became a taster of things to come.I enjoyed this film even though the subject matter was fairly heavy not to mention politically complex. 7 out of 10
'Salvador' is the extremely controversial filmmaker, Oliver Stone's,
first film, and is it any surprise it has to do with politics? Yes,
pretty much all of Mr. Stone's films have a strong political message in
them (for example: JFK, Nixon, Born on the Fourth of July, Natural Born
Killers, Heaven & Earth, Wall Street, etc.) His first major film (not
counting his dreadfully mediocre low-budget debut horror film 'The
Hand), 'Salvador' explores and follows the conflict of military
dictatorship and genocide taking place in El Salvador in the year 1980.
Although it's a very in-your-face picture and has to do with debatable
political hardships, 'Salvador' is a great, powerful and heart
wrenching picture that will stay with you a long time after you view
it. Even though 'Salvador' is one of Oliver Stone's least famous
flicks, it ranks up there with one of his best films.
The movie chronicles the life of real-life photojournalist Rick Boyle (played by James Woods). Boyle's life is falling apart all around him and he's almost completely broke, so he decides to go to El Salvador, to kick it with his best friend, Doctor Rock (played by SNL alumni James Belushi). Boyle and Doc Rock figure El Salvador will be the perfect vacation place, but what they don't realize is that the country going through one of the most violent acts of genocide in world history will effect them. In El Salvador, Boyle meets up with his girlfriend, a native, Maria (Elphidia Carillo), an old friend whose a reporter from Newsday, John Cassady (Carnivale's John Savage), and Cathy Moore, a Catholic nun who works as a lay worker (Cynthia Gibb). While relaxing in the so-called paradise, Boyle begins to realize the atrocities around him and makes a hard decision to try to make a difference, severely risking his life and the lives of the people around him.
'Salvador' isn't a masterpiece, but it's a film of such ferocious power and intensity that it's impossible not to notice. The real life Rick Boyle and Oliver Stone round out a scorching screenplay, and Stone does an awesome job behind the camera. James Woods is magnificent as Boyle, and deserved his Oscar nomination. John Belushi not only provides us with a usual comedic performance, but puts in a lot of dramatic aspects to his character showing that Belushi has more depth than most people realize as an actor. John Savage, post-Deer Hunter, is a pleasure to watch as always, and Independent Spirit Award Nominee Elphidia Carillo, turns in a fine performance as Boyle's love interest. The film also features Michael Murphy as the U.S. ambassador in El Salvador.
When it all is over, 'Salvador' proves to be a great film, but not an excellent one. The film has minor flaws like dragging a little, and sometimes not getting down to the point. It's Stone's first film (second if you count that crap, 'The Hand), and he does a damn fine job with it. If you haven't already, and don't mind a powerhouse of a film, go to your local videostore and rent 'Salvador'. Trust me, you'll like it. Grade: B+
MADE MY TOP 300 LIST AT #238
This is considered to be Oliver Stone's best film but I disagree ,
PLATOON is the best film helmed by Stone but SALVADOR is probably a
fair way behind it . Unlike PLATOON which was a heartfelt movie
mirroring the director's own experiences in Vietnam it's slightly
difficult to connect with the characters . They're cynical and
hedonistic to start with but improve as people as the film continues
making the movie a slightly too obvious redemption plot , not helped
with some Catholic imagery
James Woods plays journalist Richard Boyle . Perfect casting by Stone which got Woods his first and last Oscar nomination for Best Actor . Woods has always been superb at playing intense , manic dangerous characters and excels at playing someone who suffers from a borderline narcissistic personality disorder who continually tells the world that whilst Sydney Schanberg was picking up his Purlitzer Prize ( See THE KILLING FIELDS ) he was the last journalist out of Cambodia . It's also interesting that Boyle's main motive for going to El Salvador is that it costs a mere $50 a month to live there whilst whores and drugs are easy to come by . Of course all this changes when Boyle gets caught up in events and becomes a crusader against human rights abuses by the right wing government
The one main problem can be accused off from a moral viewpoint is one of moral equivalence . Alex Cox criticised the film where Boyle sees left wing guerrillas executing captured troops and cries that one side is as bad as the other according to Cox . I can't recall Boyle saying that but my own problem with moral equivalence is at the start of the film where Boyle self righteously proclaims he broke a story about " IRA suspects getting tortured by the Brits in Belfast " Is there any connection between the Irish troubles and what goes on in central America ? To be fair to Stone he does point out the American establishment's fear of El Salvador coming under the Soviet sphere of influence . And if Stone didn't have a deserved or otherwise reputation as a Hollywood liberal would people nitpick the film so much ?
One thing about Stone's direction is how restrained it is in relation to his later work . There's a directorial technique called " Intensified continuity " which in laymans terms is MTV style film making . Stone took this to new heights ( Or possibly depths depending on your view ) with JFK and NATURAL BORN KILLERS . Here however the camera work is disciplined with no OTT flourish and Stone thankfully lets the performances , plotting and dialogue carry the film which whilst an effective political drama doesn't carry the emotional wallop of PLATOON
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