‘Salvador’: picture of war

Courtney Clemente

More than 20 years ago, the small Latin American country of El Salvador underwent a brutal and destructive civil war. The United States gave military aid to the despotic ruling power there because conservatives felt that if rebel forces won, they would institute a Marxist regime. Oliver Stone depicts this quagmire in his first political film, “Salvador,” made in 1986 when Reagan was still president.

Although Stone had won an Academy Award a few years earlier for writing the screenplay for “Midnight Express,” he was still relatively unknown when he decided to film “Salvador.”

Thus, he was forced to make the drama on a very tight budget. He was nevertheless able to film extraordinary and unforgettable scenes, which he imbued with nightmarish grandeur.

While “Salvador” contains several major action sequences, it is also a character study of real-life photojournalist Richard Boyle. In the beginning of the film, Boyle, played by James Wood in an Oscar-nominated performance, is portrayed as an anti-hero, enveloping himself in a life of drugs, alcohol and debauchery.

He lives in a tenement with his Italian wife and baby with neither a source of income nor employment prospects. When his wife leaves with their child, Boyle heads to El Salvador, hoping to get some juicy combat shots to sell to the Associated Press.

Boyle becomes consumed and overwhelmed by violence, corruption, exploitation and utter confusion in that country. As a result, he gives up his self-serving ways and becomes altruistic and selfless.

Thus, “Salvador” encompasses a realm of redemption, where visiting “hell on earth” results in one man’s awakening to the realities of the world.

It is interesting to note that not only does the title of the film, “Salvador,” denote the country of El Salvador, but is also means “savior” in Spanish. This no doubt refers to the main character, Boyle, who is selfish and dissolute at first but becomes a caring human being by the film’s end.

“Salvador” won accolades from various critics and even earned two Oscar nominations, but it was largely ignored by the movie-going public. This is in part because “Salvador” was overshadowed by another Stone film which came out the same year, “Platoon.” In fact, Stone would find himself competing with himself against “Platoon” for 1986 Best Screenplay Oscar.

“Salvador” will be shown on Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m. in the Connelly Center Cinema. Admission is $3 for students and $4 for others.

The Monday showing will be followed by a discussion titled ‘Salvador’: Salvaging Vintage Oliver Stone,” given by Susan Mackey-Kallis of the communication department.

Contact the Communication Department.