I think one would find it hard to call Oliver Stone a moderate filmmaker. His films have viewpoints, and they hammer those viewpoints into you, evidence or not. He’s basically what Michael Moore would be if Moore made non-documentary, fictional films, but even more bombastic about it. A great example is his breakthrough film, Salvador, a treatise on the American intervention in the Salvadoran Civil War and the barbaric happenings that occurred in the country during that period. Conservatives beware; Stone does a lot of finger-pointing here, and he basically has nothing good to say about any of the people involved in the conflict, including the U.S. One might say that this film is a good example of how left-leaning Hollywood is (at least at the time), and having now seen the film, I’d pretty much have to agree.
The film doesn’t have all that much of a narrative, but instead hopscotches from event to event through the character of Richard Boyle, played by James Woods. There’s a subplot involving an El Salvadoran girlfriend of his and his attempts to get her official papers so she won’t be arrested and possibly executed, but other than that we merely jump from political event to war upheaval and back again so often the line between the two has virtually worn away. This is by and large the most politically charged film I think I’ve seen from the list, and with Oliver Stone at the helm, that doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. What I didn’t much care for was that, in his attempts to be as politically charged as possible, Stone forgoes having a coherent and understandable narrative in favor of big-budget shock value. Aside from Woods’ character, Belushi’s character, Woods’ character’s Salvadoran girlfriend, and a bit female role that Woods has a scene or two with in the middle of the film (the one that ends up with the bus of nuns), I had no idea who anyone was, and I couldn’t have cared less who anyone was; it didn’t matter. They were all there to serve a purpose, and that purpose is bringing to life Stone’s relentlessly dogmatic political message. Granted, they do a good job of doing just that, but when the resulting film is almost impossible to critique objectively because of how sweat-drippingly subjective it is, then I have a problem with the film. I will say that Woods does an excellent job with his rapid-fire character and dialogue, and the production value in this was extreme to the umpteenth degree, which I can appreciate when a film manages to have that and use it well, but that’s about all I’ll say for it.
I was a little confused about why Stone decided on the ending that he did, especially with the scrolling text after the film that basically explains away the downer of an ending. It seemed like Stone wanted to end the film on a dour note as a final punch in the gut to the audience about how horrible the situation is in Salvador, as if we hadn’t already gotten that impression from the two hours that happened before it, and then had his cake and ate it too with the scrolling text denouement. To me, it reeked of a filmmaker trying to get such a visceral emotional reaction out of the audience that what he does cinematically was tantamount to stabbing the audience in the stomach over and over, and then the film’s ending gave the knife a final twist for good measure. It was borderline sheer manipulation, and I didn’t much care for it. Still, basically the whole film was moments like that over and over, to hammer into our skulls Stone’s political agenda that the film was made to drill into us. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you’d probably be best avoiding this one, not to mention a good 80-90% of Stone’s filmography. But, just like Michael Moore’s documentaries, it is effective at what it is trying to do, so I can’t fault the film too much.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10