Salvador (1986)




Critic Consensus: Despite its somewhat disjointed narrative, Oliver Stone's Salvador is a vivid and powerful political drama that sets an early tone for the director's similarly provocative future projects.

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While Salvador wasn't Oliver Stone's first film (a pair of offbeat horror stories preceded it), it defined his style of fiercely dramatic, politically oriented filmmaking, staked out his territory as one of the major directors of the 1980s and 1990s, and remains one of his strongest works to date. Veteran photojournalist Richard Boyle (James Woods) has been taking his camera to the world's trouble spots for over 20 years; while he does good work, Boyle's fondness for booze and drugs, and his colossal arrogance, have given him a reputation that's left him practically unemployable. Broke and with no immediate prospects, Boyle and his buddy Doctor Rock (Jim Belushi), an out-of-work disc jockey, head to El Salvador, where Boyle is convinced that he can scare up some lucrative freelance work amidst the nation's political turmoil. However, when Boyle and Rock witness the execution of a student by government troops just as they enter the country, it becomes clear that this war is more serious than they were expecting. Increasingly convinced that El Salvador is a disaster starting to happen, Boyle eventually decides that it's time to get out; but he has fallen in love with a woman named Maria (Elpidia Carrillo), and he doesn't want to leave her behind. James Woods gives one of his best performances as Boyle; and the passion of Stone's message, aided by the power of its truth (the film is based on actual events), propels the film forward. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
R (adult situations/language, nudity, violence)
Drama , Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
MGM Pictures, Inc.

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James Woods
as Richard Boyle
Jim Belushi
as Doctor Rock
Michael Murphy
as Ambassador Thomas Kelly
John Savage
as John Cassady
Tony Plana
as Maj. Max
Colby Chester
as Jack Morgan
Cynthia Gibb
as Cathy Moore
Will MacMillan
as Col. Hyde
Will MacMillian
as Col. Hyde
Valerie Wildman
as Pauline Axelrod
Jose Carlos Ruiz
as Archbishop Romero
Jorge Luke
as Col. Julio Figueroa
Juan Fernández
as Army Lieutenant
Salvador Sanchez
as Human Rights Leader
Rosario Zuniga
as His Assistant
Agustín Bernal
as Bodyguard to Major Max
Martin Fuentes
as Maria's Brother
Gary Farr
as Australian Reporter
Gilles Milinaire
as French Reporter
Ramón Menéndez
as Maj. Max's Assistant
Waldeir de Souza
as U.S. Customs Official
John Doe
as Roberto, Restaurant Owner
Arturo Rodriguez Doring
as Young Student Killed
Leticia Valenzuela
as Woman Rebel
Roberto Sosa
as Rebel Youth
Daria Okugawa
as Dog Attendant
Joshua Gallegos
as Immigration Officer on Bus
Maria Rubell
as Boyle's Baby
Josh Gallegos
as Immigration Officer on Bus
Russell Tyrone Jones
as Landlord, San Francisco
Sean Stone
as Boyle's Baby
Claudia Hernandez
as Maria's Daughter
Danna Hansen
as Sister Stan
Bill Hoag
as 2nd Immigration Officer
Sigridur Gudmunds
as Sister Burkit
Erika Carlson
as Sister Wagner
Karla Glover
as Kelly Assistant
Jule Conn
as WAC at Party
Arturo Bonilla
as Romero Assassin
'Chiquilin' Zepeda
as Death Squad
Ann Sue McKean
as Cop in San Francisco
Nicholas Jasso
as Death Squad
Héctor Téllez
as Mayor at Nun's Burial
Jorge Reynoso
as Jefe at Customs Shed
Rene Pereyra
as Rapist
Jorge Pol
as Customs Officer
César Sobrevals
as Customs Officer
Bruno Rubeo
as Customs Officer
Bob Morones
as Customs Officer
Tomás Leal
as Rapist
Rene Perevra
as Rapist
Arturo R. Doring
as Young Student Killed
Yair Rubin De
as Maria's Son
Humberto Elizondo
as Road Block Thug
Mario Arevalo
as Road Block Thug
Gerardo Quiroz
as Carlos' Friend
Jose Chavez Trowe
as Jail Guard
Israel Leon
as Carlos' Friend
Mauricio Martinez
as Executed Lieutenant
Xochitl Rosario Del
as Messenger on Horse
Augustin Bernal
as Bodyguard to Major Max
John MacDevitt
as GI in Salvador
Carmen Del Ma. Sanchez
as Maria's Grandmother
Angeles Los De Ma. Urquiza
as Mamma Moncha at Panama Club
Waldeir DeSouza
as US Customs Official
Kara Glover
as Kelly
Angel Vargas
as Tic Tac Monster in Cafe
Miguel Ehrenberg
as Capt. Marti
Cindy Gibb
as Cathy Moore
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Critic Reviews for Salvador

All Critics (24) | Top Critics (4)

The polemic may seem obvious and at times laboured, but the action sequences are brilliant, and the film does achieve a brutal, often very moving, power.

Full Review… | June 23, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

The tale of American photojournalist Richard Boyle's adventures in strife-torn Central America, Salvador is as raw, difficult, compelling, unreasonable, reckless and vivid as its protagonist.

Full Review… | May 23, 2006
Top Critic

One look at the youthful, idealistic guerrillas, accompanied everywhere by folk music, and you know where Mr. Stone's heart lies.

Full Review… | May 21, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

Salvador is long and disjointed and tries to tell too many stories...But the heart of the movie is fascinating.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Borgesian critique, or exotic backdrop for a scoundrel's Hollywood redemption?

Full Review… | April 21, 2010

Though structurally messy and with uneven dialogue, Stone's independent movie captures vividly the cool, rush, and hysteria of jaded leftist American journos in the political chaos of El Slavaodr in 1980-81; James Woods Oscar-nominated turn is brilliant

Full Review… | September 18, 2007

Audience Reviews for Salvador

"..... remains one of his strongest works to date." Maybe so, but I found it quite dated.

familiar stranger
familiar stranger

Super Reviewer

Not Oliver Stone's first film, but definitely the first to really show the direction his career would be taking (politically charged, hauntingly dramatic, very strong sense of vision and message). And, this was released the same year as his landmark Platoon, so 1986 was one great year for him. Another thing about this movie that would become a Stone trademark is that it's based on actual events, with the script co-written by Stone and the subject of the film, in this case journalist Richard Boyle and his exploits in civil war torn El Salvador in the 1980s. Boyle was basically a washed up sleazy gonzo journalist who, ever the opportunist, decided to go to El Salvador (well, return as it were) to make a quick buck getting photos of the tumultuous uprising going on. Along for the ride is his friend the American DJ Dr. Rock, who, like many from the U.S. was initially ignorant of what was going on. As the things they see and experience get more harrowing and brutal though, Boyle becomes enlightened and rather than just be there to cash in on thigns, becomes a crusader who regains his lost soul and humanity. The film is really gritty and sometimes ugly, but it fits the subject matter perfectly. There's some great cinematography here, and the location shooting really helps, too. The great about this film is that Boyle is not really all that likeable of a guy. He's sleazy, opportunistic, and hedonistic, but he's still a fascinating guy, so that's what makes the film watchable. Plus, he does grow and change and earn the audience's care. James Woods really shines here as Boyle, and his Oscar nomination was much deserved. This is the second film I've watched recently with James Belushi in a dramatic role, and this one really cements my belief that he's a talent that has unfortunately fallen by the wayside. He's great as Dr. Rock, and seeing him and Woods together is quite reminiscent of a less zonkeed out Hunter S. Thompson sort of tale. I'll admit that I really wasn't too familair with Boyle, or the situation in El Salvador. Sure, I've heard of it, but prior ot seeing this I couldn't really tell you anything about it. Basically the U.S. supplied military aid to the country to help root out the spread of communism, but the tactics used by the anti-communists were so brutal and vile that they pretty much reflected the actions of those they were trying to defeat. It's bitterly ironic, and some very compelling material, especially when you have these two down and out gringos swept up in the middle of things. Stone can be a very challenging filmmaker with some tough films. This is one of those, but it also is rather accessbile. It does help to have a strong stomach though, and to be able to handle a lead that isn't usually all that likeable. If you can do that, then this will be a good film to give a watch.

Chris Weber
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

Off-beat actor meets eccentric director meets gritty material.

Randy Tippy
Randy Tippy

Super Reviewer

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