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Oliver Stone’s reputation… what can you say? His JFK with its conspiracy theory overtones looks pompous and overblown so many years after it was made, although it was a must-see on its release. Stone’s earlier Salvador snatchers a story from the disastrous civil war in Central America in the early 1980’s. The US meddled by contributing large amounts of money and military aid.
Stone made his name by melding political causes and pop entertainment, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Here we have a complicated political setup reimagined for Rolling Stone frat boys. The ever-watchable James Woods is an adventurer and press photographer where love for women, weed and risk vies with his love of a cover or double-page-spread of his photographs. In his beat-up Mustang convertible with “TV” gaffer-taped to the windscreen, he and his buddy, played by Jim Belushi, attempt to get some news photographs they can sell to American magazines. They are American, they are with the press… they are invincible.
There are great action sequences although the movie is not a thriller and it’s too wordy to be an action picture. There’s also a high key – almost Kodachrome – quality to the photography (and script) exacerbated by Woods’s garish Hawaiian shirts. Woods is the best thing in the film. The corruption of the regime is matched with the corruption of the US, but the ensuing chaos depicted in the movie is too picturesque. There are machinations with the CIA and embassy officials as the Woods character attempts to rescue his girlfriend. There are right-on rebels who can be bribed with a bottle of Black Label. No one in El Salvador, it seems, is really doing the right thing.
The war in El Salvador looks more like skirmish compared to the subsequent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, its implications nearly forgotten. Almost like Oliver Stone himself.