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Film / Salvador

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Salvador is a 1986 American war drama film directed and co-written by Oliver Stone, starring James Woods, Jim Belushi, Michael Murphy, and John Savage.

The film follows Richard Boyle (Woods), an American photojournalist who's covering The Salvadoran Civil War and becomes entangled with both the FMLN and the right-wing military while trying to rescue his girlfriend and her children.

Notable for its realistic depiction of events and for being critical of the US-supported military, the film earned generally positive reviews, garnering Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Woods) and Best Original Screenplay (Stone).


This film provides examples of:

  • Anyone Can Die: Unsurprisingly as the real events took lives of the enormous amount of innocent people. The noticeable characters that die over the course of the film include Maria’s younger brother, Archbishop Oscar Romero, a nun and Boyle’s friend Cathy Moore, and another one of Boyle’s friends and fellow photojournalist, John Cassady.
  • Artistic License – Geography: San Salvador is seemingly depicted as being on the coastline (with Boyle and Dr. Rock visiting Maria and her children at their house near the beach), but in actuality is located inland.
  • Asshole Victim: No one would shed a tear over Major Maximiliano Casanova, considering his unbelievable cruelty.
  • Big "NO!": Boyle shouts it as John is lethally wounded.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Cathy is murdered this way.
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  • Colonel Kilgore: Major Maximiliano Casanova is seems to enjoy the war and violence.
  • Death from Above: John Cassady is killed by shots from a plane.
  • Downer Ending: Many people have died including Cathy and John, Maria and her children are deported and the war in Salvador is going to continue.
  • Expy: The ARANA party is an evilier, fascist version of the Real-Life ARENA (Republican Nationalist Alliance of El Salvador) party.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Cathy just calmly crosses herself before getting shot.
  • Foreshadowing: John’s death is actually foreshadowed several times in dialogues between him and Boyle.
  • Hate Sink: Major Maximiliano Casanova is a ruthless local military man whose face and deeds scream evil.
  • Historical Domain Character: Archbishop Óscar Romero, alongside María and her children, Doctor Rock, and Richard Boyle themselves (though their personal stories, especially that of María, are partly fictionalized). Other characters have indirect analogues (see No Celebrities Were Harmed listing below).
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The ARENA party-expy and it's founder are portrayed as fascist fanboys of dictator Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez (also known as the man who decimated the indigenous population of the country during La Matanza of 1932) obsessed with creating a totalitarian El Salvador. While they were directly responsible for many disappearances and assassinations before winning the 1988 elections in real life, they were your typical self-serving right-wing authoritarians funded by the United States.
  • Hypocrite: The films main goal is to show hypocritical side of war.
    • First, there is corrupt government of Salvador that says that they’re defending locals from terrorist, while in fact not giving a single damn about innocent people and ordering the deaths of anyone who disagrees with them (unless they got immunity).
    • Second, there are US forces that say they’re just sending military instructors to Salvador and they want to defend this country, while in fact they’re taking a much bigger part in the war than they say and just don’t want Salvador to become a “second Nicaragua” (communists taking control over the territory).
    • Third, communist revolutionaries who state that they’re answering to the cruelties the government makes, but kill the hostage soldiers (despite one of them claiming he didn’t kill anyone and hadn’t any choice).
    • Minor case with the police during the ending, who almost execute Boyle, but treat him as a close friend as soon as they are told that he is an important person.
  • Jerkass: Colonel Bentley Hyde Sr. who insults Boyle and justifies the war in Salvador.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Richard Boyle is a rude, cheating person with a very unhealthy lifestyle, but he’s also cares for the lives of other and is ready to risk for others.
    • Doctor Rock maybe a drug-addicted jerkass, but he’s also a good friend who’s ready to help his close ones.
  • Nice Girl: Cathy is an incredibly supportive and kind person, which makes her death even sadder.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: John Hoagland ("John Cassady"); Roberto D'Aubuisson ("Major Maximilian 'Max' Casanova"); Ambassador Robert White ("Ambassador Thomas Kelly"); and Sisters Jean Donovan, Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clark, and Ita Ford ("Cathy Moore" and the other ill-fated missionary nuns), are all depicted indirectly under different names. Surprisingly averted with some real-life characters who are directly depicted by name (see Historical Domain Character listing above).
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • John tries to get a perfect shot of a war plane, the said plane shoots getting him killed in front of Boyle who then takes his photos as John asked before dying.
    • Boyle and Maria try to escape from Salvador with fake documents and by saying they’re married couple. The officers easily find out the documents are fake, which almost gets Boyle executed (Doctor Rock immediately making a necessary call saves his life) and later the trick with a “married couple” also doesn’t pass after they enter the United States and Maria and her children get deported.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Death of Maria’s younger brother is a point when you get that the things are really bad if you hadn’t gotten it before.
  • Take That!: Boyle claims he was actually the last man out of Cambodia, and not Sydney Schanberg. Whether the film is just slamming Schanberg or also slamming The Killing Fields is left unclear.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Cathy is the nicest character in the film and her horrific demise of being raped and executed is one of the most terrifying scenes in the movie.
  • War Is Hell: Innocent people dying, children fighting and getting executed, women being raped, war hostages being killed after giving up... War is sure hell.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Many children were killed in Salvador, including Maria’s brother who got executed by the government forces for petty reasons.