A tense and harrowing war-drama based on real events… Oliver Stone’s 1986 film about the brutal Salvadoran Civil War makes for uncomfortable viewing but then, which war drama doesn’t?

James Woods plays real-life veteran photojournalist Richard Boyle who was a friend of Stone’s and passed away in 2016. Boyle also co-wrote the screenplay.

So well, Boyle (we’re talking about the film now) has been travelling across the globe for more than twenty years, usually everywhere and anywhere that screamed ‘political upheaval’. His derring-do approach to capture the most arresting pictures amid the biggest political crisis and dramas earned him the admiration and respect of countless editors and colleagues – however, it also helped to shape the person Boyle has since become: an arrogant, cynical and above all drug-and booze loving egotist. No one wants to employ him anymore, at least not until he’s cleaned up his act. Instead of cleaning up his act he and best buddy Dr. Rock (James Belushi, probably just playing himself…) ponder over what to do with their lives: both are out of work and in debts, to make matters worse, Boyle’s girlfriend has just left him together with their young kid. Dr. Rock has lost his ‘baby’ too… a lovable dog which has been put to sleep by the local animal shelter as Rock failed to collect his beloved pooch within the 14 days timeframe (as indicated by the shelter’s strict rules). Both men are fed up and heartbroken with nothing to lose, what better reason to leave the US and head direction Central America: El Salvador to be precise! For it is here that some mighty political storm is a-brewing and yep, Boyle smells his next big chance for photographic coverage – coverage which hopefully will make him employable again.

However, after both have arrived it quickly becomes clear that they could be in for much more than they bargained for and the brutal execution of a young student by the country’s right wing military is only the beginning. Soon, both Boyle and Dr. Rock find themselves embroiled in political upheaval as the National Liberation Front, spurned on by the constant executions of civilians and those against the regime, battle it out with the Militia and their leaders. To add fuel to the fire Boyle reunites with an old flame of his, the humble, good-hearted and religious Maria (Elpidia Carrillo) who is the mother of two children, one of which is Boyle’s. Desperately trying to get himself plus Maria and the children out of the country, Boyle is held back by an increasing string of bloody executions, including the rape and murder of four female US missionaries and the assassination of Archbishop Òscar Romero. The slain Catholic women were political activists protesting against the oppression of Salvador’s impoverished citizens by the Junta.
The death squads are everywhere and during a particularly bloody showdown Boyle’s fellow colleague and friend, the photojournalist John Cassady (John Save) is killed when he becomes careless trying to take photos. The events turn Boyle into a changed man and after some nail-bitingly tense scenes at the Salvadoran border he manages to get Maria, the kids and himself onto a coach direction freedom. Just as they seem out of danger the coach is stopped again, this time at the US/Mexican border with immigration officers removing Maria and the kids. Boyle tries desperately to convince the officers that sending Maria back to Salvador would be akin to a death sentence but they drive off with her and the kids nonetheless. In the ensuing argument, Boyle gets arrested by the remaining officers at the US-side of the border.

Woods was nominated with an Academy Award for ‘Best Leading Actor’ while Stone and Boyle were nominated for ‘Best Screenplay’. Neither won, which is a shame especially as Woods is concerned. His portrayal as a down on his luck human being who has nothing than contempt for himself and those around him is near perfect.

This Dual-Format edition boasts some interesting Special Features including press booklet, interview with director Stone from 1986, trailer, Making-of documentary and audio commentary.

It would have been interesting to perhaps include some more background information about the Salvadoran Civil War, in particular as to why the US under Ronald Reagan contributed to the bloody conflict (which lasted a total of 12 years) by continuously providing military aid to the Salvadoran government.