Salvador Blu-ray Review
An underrated Oliver Stone / James Woods gem
Salvador Film Review
Golden Era Oliver Stone, with James Woods at the top of his game, Salvador is a hard hitting war film and an underrated gem.Although Stone had been in the business for over a decade before, and done a couple of low budget features, it was Salvador that put him on the map, taking his prior experience writing hard-hitting films (Scarface and Midnight Express, as well as the less well-received Michael Cimino film Year of the Dragon) and his burgeoning, conspiracy-twinged anti-US-Government vibes and travelling to El Salvador to take a snapshot of the US-backed chaos down there.
The story follows James Woods' hit-rock-bottom journalist, Richard Boyle, a slimy weasel who is in debt to everybody, but convinces an old friend, played by James Belushi (Red Heat), to travel over the border and earn some money shooting the genocide taking place there. Teaming up with John Savage's (The Deer Hunter) better respected journalist, and revisiting Elpidia Carrillo's (Predator) old flame, Boyle soon finds himself in way over his head as the place boils over into chaos.
The pinnacle of the writer/director's career.
Co-written by Stone and real-life journalist Richard Boyle (who James Woods plays), the script is a little rough around the edges, but also has a very authentic feel to it, which is undoubtedly a big contributing factor in its Oscar nomination. It also affords Woods some of the best material of his career, during a high point when he was working with the likes of Cronenberg (Videodrome) and Leone (Once Upon a Time in America). It's no real surprise that he earned himself an Oscar Nomination too; he carries the dirty heart and twisted soul of the entire piece; a slimy weasel who, deep down inside, knows that what is going on out there is wrong.
Stone is unflinching in his portrayal of the Salvadorian Civil War, and of Reagan's anti-Communist influence during the time, depicting the US support of the military there as despicable, but he hasn't quite reached extreme levels of cynicism/conspiracy here. Although he's still raw and passionate in such a way as to lend his message some natural power, Stone is also extremely focussed, and it's a marvel that the auteur managed his own little coup - persuading the Salvadorian military to film them in all their glory (complete with use of APCs and tanks, helping his minuscule budget go a hell of a lot further) despite the fact that he always intended to portray them in an unflinchingly honest light.
It may be about journalists covering a Civil War, but Stone's own journalistic skills were never more impressive than here. Indeed, although Salvador was a failure at the Box Office, the back-to-back production of this and Platoon arguably marked the pinnacle of the writer/director's career.
Salvador Blu-ray PictureNow more than three decades old, Oliver Stone's limited budget war flick comes to UK Blu-ray likely looking the best it has ever looked, and perhaps even ever will, with a strong 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, courtesy of Eureka's The Masters of Cinema series, framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen.
The best it has ever looked.
Detail is strong, pleasing, and at times even impressive, with softness kept to a minimum as the presentation provides keen focus on the grimy, unshaven lead characters with their greasy mops of hair, sweating their way through increasingly deadly territory. The backdrop is superbly realised too, with the wartorn streets, tanks and busted vehicles all rendered authentically. The grain is healthy and pervasive, but not intrusively so, instead giving the image a decent texture and reassuring you that they've soaked up all the detail possible from beneath the surface. Of course there's plenty of stock footage, of shots which have a likely authenticity to them which means they can't quite match the rest of the film (for example, the real armoured personnel carrier they are put in, or the dead bodies scattered around), but in many respects these only help serve to show just how good much of the rest of the film looks.
The colour scheme also looks better than ever, with skin tones rendered in a healthy fashion, green vibrant and lush, weathered clothing favouring more muted tones, and black levels perhaps the only element that sways slightly - although it's far from a frustrating aspect, with the image frequently teetering on the bring of demo territory and certainly consistently very good.
Salvador Blu-ray SoundA very good audio presentation.
On the aural front Eureka serve up a couple of great little audio options too, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 offering that will likely be the go-to option for the majority of viewers, but also a second Linear PCM 2.0 option for those inclined to have something a little more technically faithful. Both lossless tracks are great, but the six-channel offering is a little more expansive, affording a broader surround environment that comes close to putting you into the maelstrom of chaos. The score is rich and emotional, carrying some weight, lending a hauntingly ominous vibe to the journey, and capping a very good audio presentation.
Salvador Blu-ray ExtrasEureka's The Masters of Cinema series continues to maintain its high standards on the extras front, bring both old and new supplemental materials to what turns out to be a great little package.
Headlined by the original Audio Commentary from director Oliver Stone, there's welcome archival support from an hour-long Documentary and some Deleted Scenes.
Eureka maintains its high standards on the extras front.
The new features make for great additions, with an archival Interview with Stone from the time of the film's release, which can be listened to alongside the movie as a pseudo-Commentary, and a brand new 45 minute Interview with him conducted by the BFI. The disc is rounded off by a Trailer and the package is rounded off by a nice little booklet with interviews and stills.
Salvador Blu-ray VerdictA great little package.
Oliver Stone hasn't really delivered a true gem in over two decades, with sparks of interest from flawed offerings like Savages and Snowden, but nothing even approaching comparison to his early Golden Era greats like Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July and JFK. Before all of those, he pulled off the unthinkable with Salvador, an underrated and underacknowledged minor masterpiece that has Stone on fresh, gritty and focused form, and lead star James Woods delivering a career high performance.
Eureka's Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release affords the gem very good video and audio, and a strong selection that builds upon some great old extras with some interesting new ones. It's a very good package indeed, and comes highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99
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