Salvador (SE) /B+,B+
MGM/1985/123/ANA 1.85

         Spending two hours awash in the throbbing waters of Salvador is a roiling experience.  Itís raw filmmaking. There seems to be little compromise in the filmís content. Those bodies lying so still on the pile of ashes at the dump are blatantly unnerving.
 
   Down on his luck journalist Richard Boyle is desperate for money. His wife has just left him in disgust. He decides to return to El Salvador where he has successfully traveled the waters of international journalism. Traveling with his friend Doctor Rock, Boyle tries to pick up the life left interrupted by some abrasive and impolitic choices that led him to flee the country. Boyle settles back in with a woman he loves, seeks out stringer status with a number of news agencies, and wreaks havoc on the lives around him. Through Boyles eyes, director/writer Stone presents his one sided view of the political situation.
     Salvador
is just one of those little disposable chess pieces of Central America. Itís almost like it was a reason díetre for the American undercover forces in the late seventies and early eighties. I have admired Oliver Stoneís opinionated work for years. At least he has the balls to stand behind what he believes in, to run with his vision. You donít have to agree with him to admire his tenacity. Itís the tenacity that infuses the filmmaking with greatness. Thereís a sense of eruption all around the work. In Salvador, Stone has a sad-eyed low life of the dreg world as protagonist, yet manages to find large measures of humanity in this overbearingly obnoxious photo journalist Richard Boyle. Disheveled and desperate, Boyle manages to taint everything he touches, whether his motivations are good or selfish. He antagonizes everyone around him. Heís like the little hairs lodged in your shirt after a haircut. You keep brushing them off, but until you shower, thereís no end to the irritation. Thereís very little waste to Salvador. Other than an overly long Archbishop Romero sermon, the only other major fault with Salvador is some of the caricaturing. Whatever faults you may find with the one way Salvador,  you can't deny its power.
    For a "shoot on the run" low budget production, Salvador looks terrific. This is the first of Stone's Robert Richardson collaborations. Richardson's lens magic makes Salvador look like an "A" production. The excitement, the danger, the seediness are all captured with visual verisimilitude.
    James Woods is perfectly cast as Richard Boyle.
Woods does sleaze so well it makes your flesh crawl.  The actor's kinetic screen energy makes Boyle twitch with disreputable charm. The manís on the edge for every cunning minute of the film; his sweat smells right through the audio system. You never fail to completely believe this screen portrayal. Jim Belushi plays Doctor Rock with big strokes. As the slightly crazy sidekick who is improbably seduced by Boyle's visions of the good, easy, drug and sex life, Belushi is  effectively unpredictable. John Savage is excellent playing the photo-journalist with aspirations to greatness. Jorge Luke has a brief convincing moment as the twisted Colonel Figueroa. Tony Plana is rather too cartoonish as Major Max, the right wing military leader.

Reunion in San Salvador. ©MGM

     An excellent transfer in every aspect. The image is sharp, fine details well-defined and no edge enhancement noticeable. Color saturation is consistently powerful. Various lighting is well balanced and contrast range is strong. Shadow detail in the darkest scenes reveals the director's intent. Blacks are rich and skin tones have a nice natural range.
     Charles Kiselyak, a veteran DVD documentary maker, has written and directed Into the Valley of Death about the making of Salvador. Interviews with Stone, Woods, Belushi and former American Ambassador Robert White form the core of the work, intercut with scenes from the film. The scenes fromt he film add too much padding to the documentary, but overall, it's fascinating material. The Oliver Stone commentary is an interesting mix of production details and anecdotes and surrounding history. Stone has done quite a few commentaries for his films and he has become more and more natural and comfortable with the process. There are fairly long gaps in the commentary, but overall, the comments are packed with information and well worth the wait.

 


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