John Cassady: I thought you were dead.
Richard Boyle: Dead? Why, do I look that bad?
John Cassady: Yes.

Title: Salvador
Year: 1986
Director: Oliver Stone
Producer: Gerald Green, Oliver Stone
Screenplay: Oliver Stone, Richard Boyle
Starring: James Woods, James Belushi, Michael Murphy, John Savage, Elpidia Carillo and others

Plot summary

Rick Boyle is a journalist with a lot of problems. His wife just left him, he is out of a job and on top of that he has just been in jail for repeated driving violations. When he gets bailed out by his DJ friend Doctor Rock he decides to drive to El Salvador to see if he can cover the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Of course he has not got a licence and the car is unregistered.

Arrived in El Salvador he sees a country torn apart by a bloody internal conflict. The leftist guerilla is fleeing up into the hills while an American backed general is preparing himself for being elected in a supposedly democratic election. Boyle decides to try to get a press pass and give journalism a last shot. His Salvadorian girlfriend and the Newsweek photographer John Cassady helps him out in getting the coveted press pass. Once back into journalism his work ethics gets tested by the leftist guerilla who want to use him to get their story published in the USA, the rightist military who want to screen his information to get at the guerilla, and his own need to protect his girlfriend. To find out the rest you will have to watch the film :-)

My opinions

Salvador was the film that made Oliver Stone a name as a director, and I think this is one of the two best films he has ever made. The second one would be Platoon, which in my opinion unfortunately made him think he was some kind of demi-god, with all the hubris that goes with that. In Salvador Stone looks deeply into journalism and how journalists can cover what happens in a war zone. What adds the extra credibility is that the story is based on true events and that Boyle co-wrote the screenplay. OK, it's granted that some parts are showing sign of the future Stone, with a tendency to write what he wants to say in big letters, when a subtle hint would be more effective. On the whole, though, I guess that it only shows his eagerness to show his fellow Americans that you shouldn't trust everything you hear and see. Or as Danfish expresses it on IMDB: "The best point I think Oliver Stone makes with Salvador is that it is dangerous and unfair to denounce anyone who takes up arms against their government with a legitimate grievance as a godless communist." A very interesting angle in this day and age.

The real impact, however, is down to James Woods, whose performance is absolutely fantastic. He displays all the personal conflicts that you would have in an armed conflict and shows distinct wear as the film goes on. The rest of the people are well cast and support him nicely, but the character of Boyle is the one that really stands out.

In my opinion this is a highly watchable movie (9/10) and I would like to get my hands on the DVD for the extras. It's supposed to be really good and entertaining.

Salvador will likely always be a minor masterpiece in Stone's canon of work, but it's a solid, if ultimately narrow, effort. In fact, Stone would find himself competing with himself (over Platoon) for 1986's Best Screenplay Oscar. He would win neither, as Woody Allen got the trophy for Hannah and Her Sisters. Now that's war.

Christopher Null - Copyright © 2001

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