Saturday, February 04, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Salvador (1986) ***

R, 122 min.
Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Oliver Stone, Rick Boyle
Starring: James Woods, James Belushi, John Savage, Elpidia Carrillo, Michael Murphy, Cindy Gibb, Tony Plana, Juan Fernández

Oliver Stone’s “Salvador” is all over the place. Reflecting the morally ambiguous personality of its main subject, journalist Richard Boyle, the movie rarely sits down long enough to focus on what seems to be its most important plot aspect, the peasant revolution in El Salvador in 1980 and 1981.

James Woods seems almost naked (well, at times he literally is) in his daring portrayal of the scattered journalist. He’s not a man who’s ever been any good at holding together a life. Stone’s treatment of his story is a mirror of that. Boyle loses his apartment and wife in one day and decides to head back to El Salvador to cover the revolution despite the fact that he had been kicked out of the country only a year earlier.

Everything Boyle does seems to be setting the movie up to be an exposé on what really went down in the revolution, but he never quite keeps his focus on it. The strange thing is that Stone’s main character doesn’t seem to actually care about the revolution. It’s not that he doesn’t care so much as he gets distracted by his girlfriend’s safety, the treatment of other various citizens, drinking, American politics, anything that runs into his radar. Now, all these things relate to the revolution, but it’s very hard for the viewer to get a good gauge on just what’s going on with the revolution. It makes for a fascinating portrait of the man, and a scattered account of this point in Salvadorian history.

The last 30 minutes of the film are the best as Boyle is really forced to interact with the revolution and actually performs some of his functions as a journalist. For Boyle it’s never really about the story as much as it is about himself. Considering that Boyle was heavily involved in the making of this movie, it’s interesting that this is how it comes out on screen. He does seem to be very aware of his own selfishness. I would’ve liked to learn more about what really went down politically, but I can’t say that what Stone has produced here isn’t good.

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