Salvador (1986) Blu-ray Review: Oliver Stone Finds His Calling

Prior to becoming a standout name with the international success of Platoon in 1987, Oliver Stone was only known for directing several films. Two of them were B-grade horror movies, the generally unseen Seizure from 1974, and the usually laughed-at fiasco The Hand from 1981. It was with his third directorial feature, however – the 1986 Hemdale Film release Salvador – that Stone, a man who has potentially passed one illegal drug too many through his system over the years, finally found something he was good at: a politically charged war drama that swerved in and out of reality, whilst maintaining a firm grip on man’s inhumanity to man via the diabolical element of politics.

Written by and based on the (mostly?) fictionalized accounts of another fellow who was apparently quite fond of various unlawful substances, photojournalist Richard Boyle, Salvador finds James Woods as a fictionalized version of the aforementioned co-author. Unable to even afford a phone call in an increasingly yuppie-riddled San Francisco circa 1980-1981, the boisterous Boyle – a reporter who has long outlasted his welcome with every publication and press outfit he’s ever worked for thanks to his assorted shenanigans – rings up his equally disgruntled ex-rock DJ pal (James Belushi) and sets off to return to Boyle’s own personal Shangri-La, El Salvador. It is there that Boyle hopes he can redeem his career and find some sort of solace amid the torrid civil war going on.

Upon setting foot in El Salvador, however, Boyle realizes that things have changed since he was last there. Most of his old pals are either no longer in power, have disassociated themselves with his outrageous antics, or are just plain dead; the victims of a bloody conflict that is being sanctioned and supported by the United States itself, and which Boyle has now landed himself – along with just about everyone he meets – directly in the center of. Michael Murphy (the other Andrew Prine) is a U.S. ambassador, Tony Plana is the powerful military major determined to execute his way to the top (an act which includes assassinating Archbishop Romero), Elpidia Carrillo is the local lass of a dubious reputation whom Boyle falls in love with through it all, and John Savage is another journalist determined to find something – anything – to make it seem all worthwhile.

Another element Stone hones in on here is assholery. It’s a foregone conclusion that the sometimes faceless men behind the civil war, from the local corrupted military officers to future American presidents faraway, must inhabit something very evil about them. Stone, however, ensures that even the good guys are by no means innocent themselves. Boyle, his sidekick Doctor Rock, and just about everybody else we meet – most of whom were inspired by real-life individuals – are thoroughly unlikeable characters. From the get-go, you hate them. And as their situations go from bad to worse, you can’t help but wish it would all just go away. But then, at the same time, that’s an appropriate allegory for war, isn’t it? No one is to blame (thank you, Howard Jones), but everyone is guilty. Or something like this. Maybe I should have been on drugs for this one (which I think is a requirement for most of Stone’s features).

Twilight Time presents us with a new HD transfer at Oliver Stone’s precursor to the much more popular Platoon (interestingly, both features competed against each other during the Academy Awards in ’87, though no one had truly bothered to take a look at Salvador) in a presentation that is quite commendable when you stop to consider most of the movie was shot in a rather guerilla-like style. English DTS-HD MA lossless audio tracks are available in both 5.1 and 1.0, and a third aural option provides viewers/listeners with a 2.0 DTS-HD MA isolated score.

Special features – including a making-of documentary with cast and crew (wherein you can learn how James Woods nearly died and more, in his delightfully sardonic way), deleted scenes (culled from a rough cut preserved on video), trailer, and audio commentary from Stone himself – have been ported over from the 2001 Special Edition DVD. Missing from the mix is a collection of stills, while new to the fray are Julie Kirgo’s liner notes.

Salvador is limited to a pressing of 3,000 copies while supplies last.

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Luigi Bastardo

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