Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Salvador (1986)

2 Nominations, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Actor in a Leading Role - James Woods
Nomination: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen - Oliver Stone and Rick Boyle

It has been 24 years since the peace accords were signed that brought a cease-fire to the Salvadoran Civil War, and 30 years since Oliver Stone's Salvador was released in theaters.  In that time, as El Salvador has faded from international headlines and back into relative obscurity, Stone's film has largely experienced the same fate.  While some political thrillers transcend the events that they depict and find their own relevance outside of their times, Salvador is grounded in the Salvadoran Civil War to such a degree that it was likely destined to be forgotten once time passed.

This is a shame; while not transcending its circumstances, Salvador is not limited by them.  Salvador is not a film with great character development or tense plotting, and much of the film is polemical rather than narrative in tone.  James Woods brings a manic intensity to the role that adds nuance to his brashness, anchoring both the character and the film itself.  He was never going to win the trophy over Paul Newman in The Color of Money, but it's an aggressive, bold performance well worthy of its nomination.

Oliver Stone's collaboration with Rick Boyle on the screenplay was equally worthy of its nomination (it also had little chance to win an Oscar, facing off against Woody Allen for Hannah and Her Sisters (interestingly, Stone was also competing against his own screenplay of Platoon)).  The film is about the Salvadoran Civil War, and the characters mostly exist as windows into the conflict rather than full individuals.  Yet the dialogue is so passionate and the pace is so focused that it still feels alive and important.

Ultimately, where Salvador succeeds is Oliver Stone's relentless focus on showing the horrors of the conflict.  The violence is raw, but never sensationalized, and the senselessness of the violence is on full exhibit.  The film takes a strong point of view, and Stone backs up this decision through his expert storytelling.  There are few examples of a film as focused and meaningful in Stone's oeuvre.

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