Salvador (Oliver Stone / U.S., 1986):

Fear and loathing in La Guerra. Oliver Stone sets up the swirling nightmare with the bestial sketching of a Steadman cartoon, civil war-split El Salvador on the cusp of the Eighties is the logical next stop for a weasel whoís already been to Ireland, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Lebanon. The chief gonzo is a hopped-up San Francisco journalist (James Woods), a scotch-taped mess of speed, booze and harridans who heads south with his shambling Sixties-capsule buddy (James Belushi) in search of "some good combat shots for AP." Charred corpses welcome them into their new "wacko joint." U.S.-approved government thuggery is in full flower: A fancy-pants tyrant gets his boots shined while shooting civilians, underground dungeons are contrasted with the sprawling open graves into which the desaparacidos are dumped, the murder of Romero is decreed at El Majorís dinner table and carried out in church. Between these and the verdant (elusive?) hope of insurrectionist camps lie the fleeting idyll of a beachfront hammock with a campesina Madonna (Elpidia Carrillo) and the bogus oasis of a pool party for military ramrods and reporters ("fuckiní yuppies"). The heated style is a piling up of Huston, Pontecorvo and Peckinpah, the camera is always hopping on hot coals, looking for rough edges -- a raped nunís gun-blasted face -- to scratch the eye. Stone is a shake-up chronicler of wounds, identifying himself with the brave veteran correspondent (John Savage) who plunks himself down under a swooping bombardier for a snapshot of the line of fire. Borgesian critique, or exotic backdrop for a scoundrelís Hollywood redemption? Woods sneaks in some rich jittery comedy ("I can still take a few hits from a joint, right" he bargains at the confessional) between didactic spiels ("What are the death squads but the brainchild of the CIA?"), though the lingering feeling is one of impotent rage. Reagan on a TV screen is already babbling about "the terrorists," Alex Cox completes the demolition job the following year in Walker. Cinematography by Robert Richardson. Music by Georges Delerue. With Cynthia Gibb, Michael Murphy, Tony Plana, Colby Chester, and Juan Fernandez.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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