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Oliver Stone has made a name for himself as a political filmmaker with an agenda to portray American history (and indeed the history of the world) through his unique perspective. The filmmaking of Stone is undoubtedly political in nature and he is one to create a variety of cinematic portraits with a keen sensibility unlike most other filmmakers. Perhaps as the production of Salavador was mostly done outside of the traditional Hollywood system, everything about the film feels more personal from it's filmmakers as they look at the revolutionary war of Salvador in 1980 (on both ends of the spectrum) in this interesting dramatization of events.
The film is largely based upon actual events and characters but some of the situations and characters were created strictly for the film itself. The story revolves around Richard Boyle (James Woods), a struggling journalist who finds himself with tons of debt and outstanding parking tickets. We discover that he has recently been divorced and has little left to his name. After being bailed out of jail from his close buddy Doctor Rock (James Belushi) for having a parking-ticket record of over 50 unpaid items, both begin a car-trip with no known destination... that is, until Boyle decides he will take them into Salvador so that he can photograph the events of the 1980 dictatorship that was dominating the country. Though he tells his friend otherwise. The two buffoons traverse across a military operation that almost leaves them dead the second they traverse into the country. As the story is told, Boyle begins to find work taking photographs for both the guerilla freelancers working to tell the story of Salvador's revolution and the military forces who want to see what is going on from the rebelling people of the nation.
Boyle, as it turns out, finds morale as he traverses across Salvador and witnesses atrocities: both the horror of the death-squads set out to systematically murder and burn entire villages consisting of anyone opposed to the government -- in some of the film's most haunting and effective scenes he witnesses the horror of the dead bodies piling across an entire mountain, shooting his camera as the only transparent means of intervening his own trauma seeing this devastating horror, and his recognition of the revenge-filled murders occurring by Salavador rebels looking to kill anyone who had worked with the government: killing, point-blank, and without hesitation.
One of the most interesting things about the film is it's juxtaposition in focusing on the character of Boyle and his friend Rock. The two characters are both ill-fitted to even be in the country and it's clear both are meant to be portrayed as outsiders looking in at Salvador's chaotic state in 1980. Both face their own personal demons while becoming involved in a nation filled with death and destruction at every turn. Everywhere these characters go they are met with total chaos. Boyle is an outsider in the same way the audience is and through the framework the story looks in at a nation collapsing from the weight of corrupted government and a blood-thirsty rebel force that is determined to meet their country's violent betrayal with their own violent revenge-fueled agenda.
In performing the character of Boyle, Woods brings the character to life in a way few actors would have been able to successfully handle. One of the fascinating attributes to his performance is the way he makes Boyle seem cold and uncaring in some scenes: working on both sides to earn a paycheck (or perhaps out of a strange fascination in his surroundings), and continuing to drink despite the love of his life Maria (Elpidia Carrillo) wanting him to become a new and improved person. Yet these moments are made more effective as the film explores more layers to the character. In one of the film's most surprisingly effective scenes, Boyle enters a Church mass and speaks to a pastor for the first time in countless years. The moment is quite remarkably realized because of Woods dedication to presenting Boyle as a complex character, often at war with himself. Boyle may act cold at times but he also responds to the coldness in reporting that is being done by many other journalists in Salvador and beckons them to take the work seriously. His determination to bring photographs from the Salvador revolution to the United States and to save the life of his lover Maria, who he fears will be killed (along with her two young children) if they stay in Salvador becomes one of the focal points of the story and it is key to the heart of the performance by Woods (and even echoes into the dramatic forefront in the scene's chilling climatic scene).
The stor focusing on a character like Boyle or Rock seems rather unlikely on the one hand, but the origin of the film actually came from real life events.Salvador was co-written with director Stone from the real Richard Boyle, who accounted several stories from experiences in Salvador during the same time-period. In reading the accounts, Oliver Stone became fascinated by the story he was told and thought it made perfect sense to dramatize it and explore it as a film. It seems Stone had the right idea: the film placed him on the filmmaking map and earned acclaim from critics and the Academy Awards with nominations for actor James Woods (Best Actor) and Best Original Screenplay (Oliver Stone and Richard Boyle). More importantly, the film made strong thematic points about the destruction, evil, and chaos occurring amidst both sides. The film was made with a fierce independent spirit and strong voice that was at the forefront of this fascinating historical drama. With great performances, a terrific score by Truffaut's frequent collaborator Georges Delerue, and a strong production design despite a modest budget for the filmmakers to work with, Salvador finds success on a grander-than-expected scale.This is likely the most acclaimed Oliver Stone film that viewers haven't seen before. The film was met with great critical response but was never a giant financial success and it's one of its filmmakers lesser-known works despite being the effort that placed Stone on the Hollywood map. Fans of the filmmaker are encouraged to seek out and explore this early directorial effort which dramatized real-life characters and events in a way that was surprisingly effective in exploring the Salvador revolution of 1980.
Salvador has been presented on Blu-ray with a strong quality 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1.85:1 widescreen. The print used for the high definition presentation is mostly clean, stable, and impressive with regards to overall clarity throughout the presentation. The only noteworthy issue on the print are occasional specs of dirt but these are minor flecks on the image that only periodically find themselves on the print. No DNR was applied to the transfer and it retains a natural filmic look that is sure to please fans looking for a faithful presentation true to the source-material.
There is an issue with a minor encoding error that is "blink-and-you-miss-it" around the 48 minute mark. It is barely noticeable but there. Whether or not Twilight Time will issue any replacement discs to those who want them is hard to say given the brevity of the issue, and the limited nature of the release. If any new information materializes, I will update this section of the review. Overall, Salvador still impresses with its high definition Blu-ray presentation. It should also easily eclipse the only pre-existing international release (which utilized around 15 GB of data for the presentation) compared to Twilight Time's 35 GB. Fan's can't go wrong with this quality presentation of the film.
The sound quality is also impressive on this release. The film contains a quality lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 audio presentation. Both are presented in 24 bit. The benefits of the 5.1 mix are mostly front-heavy with a slightly wider degree of separation between the front speakers and subwoofer as opposed to the basic stereo sound design. The film is lacking in rear surround activity for almost the entirety of the presentation. Still, dialogue is the most important attribute, and Salvador excels with clarity in this regard. The score by the great Georges Delerue also impresses.
There are a number of supplements included on this release. An Isolated Score Track features the work of composer Georges Delerue as a standalone lossless DTS-HD Master Audio stereo audio experience. A Audio Commentary with Director Oliver Stone explores the film's creation and its origins. Into the Valley of Death - The Making of Salvador (1 Hr.) is an in-depth look at the film production with interviews with the cast, director, co-screenwriter, and others. The film was one with a tumultuous production history and this is explored in great detail in this documentary. In rounding out the disc's supplements, viewers will find Deleted Scenes (28 min.) from the film, some of which are merely extended moments (and all of these cut parts are presented in VHS quality), and the Original Theatrical Trailer promoting Salvador.
Salvador is a thought-provoking and intelligent drama and intense thriller with a lot of strong political undertones (and some of these political statements are not so under-the-radar). The filmmaking is fierce and original. The film signaled in the genuine arrival of a new voice in American cinema that would make a significant mark on the industry: Oliver Stone found a voice that would soon find greater recognition in later years with acclaimed works such asPlatoon, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, and Nixon.
Though Salvador was a earlier effort from the renowned filmmaker, it's the work that heralded in Stone's political voice (which would later become the dominate characteristic of all of his filmmaking). Featuring an array of strong performances, including James Woods as the standout performer, Salvador is a powerful anti-war film made by one of cinema's most fascinating filmmakers.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.