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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2016.8

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

These are my notes to remember what I watched and kinda what I thought about it. I’ve recently transferred my reviews to IMDb and made the list of over 900 ratings publicly available. I’ve included the individual ratings with my notes for each movie. These ratings are not absolutely comparable to each other—I rate the film on how well it suited me for the genre and my mood. YMMV.

Last Tango in Paris (1972) — 7/10

It’s Paris in the 1970s. A young woman passes an older man on a bridge, under a train trestle. They note each other, but move on. She stops at a building with apartments to rent. The landlady is odd, doesn’t have the key, finds a duplicate. When the girl gets to the apartment upstairs, the man is there. He had taken the key. They circle each other, asking one another whether they’re taking the apartment. This feels quickly like innuendo for something else. After more circling, feints and subterfuge, he approaches, lifts her up, and takes her up against a radiator. They are both surprised at the intensity of the coupling, but roll away and leave the building without saying another word to each other. We discover later that his name is Paul and she is Jeanne.

She has a boyfriend, who she rushes to meet at the train station. Paul is next seen in a different apartment, watching as another woman cleans up a bloody bathroom. Next, we see Jeanne in the apartment, dancing around movers, but it’s his stuff that is being moved in. The movers call her “his wife” and he tells her that he does not want to know her name nor wants her to know his. Next, we see an older woman, moving in to a different set of rooms. This is his wife’s mother. She has joined him because the bloody bathtub was the scene of his wife’s suicide. They argue about whether God is allowed to be involved in the funereal proceedings.

He is a moody, violent and broken man.

The next day, we see him with his new young lover in their new apartment, not knowing anything about each other, Kama Sutra-ing/Chakra-ing their way through a lazy afternoon.

She returns to her boyfriend, who is shooting a film of her life. They return to her ancestral home—she is the scion of a French general who served in Algeria (and who was a horrible racist)—and they film further there. She starts by proudly claiming that neighborhood children always played in their yard. When they get to the backyard, the housekeeper Olympia shoos away a gaggle of children who are relieving themselves in the woods, yelling “Oh, these dirty little Arabs! Go and shit in your own country!” Her daughter says that “Olympia was sublime. It’ll give a good idea of race relations in the suburbs of Paris.” This was over 40 years ago. Nothing has changed.

She escapes back to the apartment and to Brando’s moody giant. They are extremely comfortable with each other. The notion that they know nothing of each other paradoxically makes them open up to each other more. “No names!”, he yells. She yells back at him that he doesn’t listen to her, that he’s not generous, not indulgent, he’s an egoist, he’s locked up in his moody solitude. He smirks at her. I can’t even tell if Brando is even acting here. “I can be alone too!” she yells at him, before he leaves the room. To prove her point (somehow), she masturbates. He is unperturbed, truly in his own world, crying. Is he somehow mourning for the loss of his wife?

Now he’s back with his wife’s mother. They seem to be still working through her daughter’s death.

He’s back in the apartment when she comes back in, calling him “Monster”. He’s on the floor, and demands butter. She brings it, but is on the way back out. His plans for the butter are not for breakfast, but for buggering lubricant. He rapes her. Brando seems to be extending or reliving his role as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.

In the next scene, her filmmaker boyfriend proposes to her and it’s unclear what her answer is. Quick switch to the next scene, where she’s dressing up in her father’s old military uniforms while her mother packs up other things. Next she’s back making the film, getting fitted for a bridal gown and discussing “pop marriage” with her fiancé.

She runs back to Paul, telling him that she tried to leave him, but that she could not. So he carries her upstairs, where he gets crazier and more controlling and mean. He’s off the rails, but she can’t leave him. She tries, but fails and can’t seem to get away from him without his permission, which he refuses to give. Paul has quite an anal fixation, There’s the butter-rape scene, He mentions hemorrhoids a few times, there’s the scene with the dead rat where he says he’ll save the rat’s asshole for her to eat with mayonnaise, and then he starts talking morosely later about how everyone’s alone, about how you have to “crawl up into the asshole of death” to discover life’s meaning.

She keeps telling him that she’s found love without doing that, then tells Paul that she’s talking about him. He responds with brutality, wanting to push her away. His brutality is expressed, once again, in line with his anal fixation, this time his own. While she obliges his demand, he drivels on about future bestial acts he’ll make her perform, trying to drive her away? Or satisfying his own vicious, twisted carnal desire? She hangs on for the whole twisted ride. He can’t drive her away because she knows what he’s trying to do. He is relentless, though.

Next he visits his wife’s body and he expounds away again, deliriously. She cheated on him with everyone she could, including most of the guests in their hotel. The meanness that he exercises against Jeanne is probably revenge against all women for the transgressions of his “lying cunt” of a wife. Brando does play this broken, damaged person quite well.

Paul meets Jeanne again and they spend the day getting crazy drunk in a large hall hosting a tango contest. When they’re good and liquored up, after more abuse from him, they take to the floor and make an embarrassing hot mess of everything, getting thrown off the floor by the judges. She pulls herself together enough to tell him they’re finished. She masturbates him in the dark corner of the hall while she protests that it’s finished. She runs away. He gives drunken chase, screaming for the “bimbo” to stop. He’s not going to let her go. She ends up at her mother’s apartment; he follows. She grabs her father’s service revolver and fatally shoots him. He staggers to the terrace, takes one last look at Paris and dies, curled up in a ball.

There’s a lot of nice camera-work with mirrors and odd angles that give a good idea of the disjointed state of his mind. Maria Schneider as Jeanne is fantastic.

Solaris (1972) — 8/10

Tarkovsky’s masterpiece does so much with so little. There’s a long segment—about ten minutes—during which Burton travels wordlessly by car into a major city, along arterials. The sound design, the music and the photography all make it seem like he’s taking a rocket-ship ride instead. It feels so…otherworldly, even though the journey is prosaic and well-known to anyone who’s driven into a city from its outskirts. Similarly, with scenes of nature, where he films them so that it’s at first difficult to discern what we’re actually looking at, but then the scene resolves itself to a branch hovering over lilypads on water. Again, Tarkovsky makes it seem like he’s filming another world. He switches between black and white and color, between sound design that picks up every cricket, to one where the crackling of a fire is utterly missing.

Most of the film’s background is conveyed in long soliloquies. The story is of a planet named Solaris, which has what seems to be a sentient world organism either living in the ocean or that is the ocean.

We accompany Kelvin on his journey to Solaris, where he rendezvouses with the space station orbiting the planet. He finds the station nearly deserted and at least partly destroyed. He finds doctor Snaut in a distracted, agitated state. He finds out that Sartorious is missing and Gibarious is dead. Snaut acts strange and warns Kelvin that he should be careful of what he thinks he sees. Kelvin thinks he sees another person in Snaut’s makeshift hammock right before Snaut shoos him away, begging him to come back later.

Kelvin finds Gibarian’s quarters, where everything is in disarray. Strange drawings and readouts hang everywhere. He plays a message that Gibarian left for him, trying to explain what happened to him. But he’s very mysterious. He says that he hopes what happened to him won’t happen to Kelvin but that he can at least hope to prepare him for it. What is it? He names it a monster. He leaves with the tape and wanders through the elaborately rendered and dilapidated station. We see Snaut peering through a partition at him.

Kelvin seeks out Sartorious, who agrees to talk to him, but won’t let him into his rooms. Sartorious keeps the door from being broken down, then catches a small man who tries to escape. He ends the conversation and retreats to his room, little man in tow. Kelvin looks out at the ocean of Solaris. A scantily clad woman walks past behind him, along the curve of the station. He follows her into a freezer, where she could never survive, but where he finds Gibarian’s body. She is gone.

Back with Snaut, we see a disorderly array of instruments, drawings and snippets of data decorating his quarters as well. They argue about the woman, objects move and fall in Snaut’s quarters, Snaut declares tht Kelvin doesn’t understand anything at all. Snaut likely has no idea whether Kelvin actually exists, although Kelvin, our narrator, is utterly convinced that he does. He watches the end of Gibarian’s message, where he sees a young girl flit through the picture a few times—a girl who could not possibly be on the station. The film switches between color—the woman’s dress is blue—and a nearly saturation-free black and white.

Kelvin lies down and dreams. Tarkovsky has a way of making long periods of nothing very suspenseful, even more than Kubrick could. He wakes to find a young woman sitting in his cabin. She approaches and lies down next to him, greeting him with a kiss. He looks exhausted and sad, questioning her about how she came to be there. He seems to know her; he calls her Hari. She finds a photograph of herself, spies herself in a mirror and asks him who she is. She thinks she has amnesia. She doesn’t want to let him out of her sight, as if her existence depends on close contact. She seems to know Snaut, though that should be impossible. When he tries to help her undress for an EVA, he discovers that the closure on her dress won’t open, as if it had been created around her, but non-functional, rather than put on by her.

We next see Kelvin in the EVA silo, where he asks her to get in, then shuts the door behind her and ships her off-station. We hear her screaming in protest. He is trapped inside the silo and suffers burns. He survives with minor burns but she is gone. Back in his rooms, he is visited by Snaut, who now tells him more of what he knows, that the planet seems to be manifesting islands of their human consciousness, that Hari will return, despite Kelvin having sent her off in a rocket. Kelvin moves out of shot to get out of his singed clothes and we see Hari’s afghan still draped over his chair.

He sleeps. He wakes in the night to another incarnation of Hari. This one is better—she knows how to take off her own dress. She has another shawl. He sees them both draped over the chair now. She paces the room, as if unsure how to proceed. In the morning, Kelvin leaves to get rid of her duplicate clothes but she tears through the metal doorway, unable to stand being out of his sight. She does grievous damage and seems to be dead, although her wounds are healing miraculously quickly. She is terrified at the sight of her own blood—because she doesn’t know that she’s an incarnation of his imagination made real by an alien intelligence. She thinks she’s the real Hari.

Together, they watch what look like clips of a home movie of his life (?). The film ends on Hari, standing on planet Earth. He is trying to show her what she is, to see if she will come to the conclusion herself. She remembers bits and pieces. She lies to herself, not knowing she’s a being constructed of neutrinos rather than cells.

Snaut arrives again, always wrapping his hand—presumably from having beaten his apparitions to death. They plan an encephalographic attack on the planetary entity. Kelvin goes further off the deep end, getting closer and closer to this copy of his estranged wife. Hari finally discovers that she’s not real, but wonders how to go on from there. She asks about how the “other her” died. Hari, it turns out, had poisoned herself. Kelvin is now more in love with the copy than he was with the original.

Next, we see Kelvin, Hari and Sartorious waiting for Snaut in a very fancy office, complete with candlesticks (it’s hard to believe that it’s on a space station). Snaut shows up in a torn three-piece suit. Kelvin is also in a suit. They cite Don Quixote on the beauty of sleep. They drink what looks like wine from fine crystal. There are stuffed birds on the shelves on the walls. Who took all that stuff into space?

They discuss what it is to be human. Hari says that she is becoming human, perhaps a better person than they, who are so dismissive of her. As if to bely this, though, she then sobs when she discovers that she doesn’t know how to drink from a glass of water. And still she has no shoes.

After accompanying a drunken Snaut for a while, Kelvin returns to the study, where Hari’s brooding, smoking a cigarette. Hari acts quite well, giving an impression of otherworldliness in her unblinking stares. She is meditating on a painting on the wall. He startles her out of her reverie. Snaut said that there would be 30 seconds of weightlessness. No-one thought to make sure the lit candelabra should be put out. The glass of orange juice doesn’t float, though. The ocean of Solaris roils on.

The silence is interrupted by a shot, then a close-up of a container of what looks like liquid Oxygen spinning on the floor, next to a frozen and quite dead-looking Hari. Kelvin hunkers over her corpse She’s killed herself out of despair. But she will return. Snaut advises him, “don’t turn a scientific problem into a love story.”

Kelvin slips deeper into delirium. Sleep brings no respite, no recovery. We see how Hari appears only once he wakes. He wanders the increasingly messy station in his underwear—crimson instruments partially torn from the curved walls—meeting Snaut and babbling about life and its worth in a Shakespearian soliloquy. As in Stalker, Tarkovsky has a knack for making an act as simple as wandering down a relatively banal hallway seem portentous. He uses music, stark and abrupt silences, mood, angles, mirrors, switch between color and black and white, odd juxtapositions—seriously where did they get cut flowers on a space station?—and priming through backstory to build so much out of nothing. Kelvin lies in delirium, surrounded by Hari, and now his mother, his family dog, multiple copies of Hari, fruits, flowers. Objects move on their own. Madness.

Kelvin wakes as from a fever dream to a room with only Snaut in it. He tells him that there is no Hari anymore. They have successfully transmitted Kelvin’s electroencephalogram to the creature below and the apparitions have stopped. The camera, however, lingers on relics of their visits, like Hari’s afghan or his mother’s washing ewer. Snaut tells him he should go back to Earth and when next we see him, he’s at the homestead. He turns from the lake to see his old family dog, running to him, then approaches the window to see his father. Kelvin’s face twists in agony, as he sees that his father is inundated by a leak in the roof that he doesn’t notice…and Kelvin knows he’s not back on Earth, but on one of the islands that have cropped up on Solaris. He knows he is trapped there, but accepts it and embraces his father.

As with Stalker, this is a story of a first contact that doesn’t follow a formula, that doesn’t imagine any way that a truly alien culture could find anything in common with us. Recommended.

Fail-Safe (1964) — 8/10

This is a Sidney Lumet film about the fail-safe system that was in place during the cold war. It’s very interesting, but feels more like a documentary about how the system works: the checks, the balances, the unlikelihood of anyone really knowing what’s going on or being in control. The morality or immorality of it all. How jocular they are about the inconsistencies, about the “UFOs” which might cause them to start a war, to accidentally end life on Earth as we know it. They talk about overstocking weapons, about the inhumanity of thermonuclear war.

The film follows a green alert during a fail-safe, which ends up being an off-course commercial flight with engine trouble. The whole room stands down after coming close to red alert. Next, there is a piece of faulty equipment to replace and the flights that are holding a pattern over the fail-safe points receive a “go” signal, but they can’t believe it. They try to verify and get what seems like verification of the day’s sequence code. They are a go.

The command center thinks they’ve dodged one of the many bullets they dodge each week, as they separate the signal from the noise. But then they all notice that one of the bombers is headed for Moscow, according to the order it thinks it’s gotten. They’re now in the position of not being able to call back their bombers because they can’t establish contact. Even if they do establish contact, any orders will be ignored, according to protocol. So the only alternatives are to either allow the bombers to hit Moscow or to use US jets to blow bombers out of the sky.

This movie plays out as a sort of what-if scenario about different ways that the fail-safe systems could fail. The cast discusses how machines have gotten too fast to correct, they even temporarily delve into the minds of the Russians, who must be just as confused and reluctant to jump to conclusions as they are (probably more). Walter Matthau—playing a “political scientist” name Groeteschele—stands out as one of the most unstable and least reasonable characters, so cock-sure of every one of his prognostications. Dan O’Herlihy’s General Black provides a balance with his Colonel Black, resisting Groeteschele’s insanity. Henry Fonda plays the president.

Regardless of what the fools on the ground decide, Murphy’s Law decides to make the chasing jets flame out and crash before they can catch up to the bombers, making the decision of whether to shoot their own planes out of the sky moot.

Larry Hagman is—I kid you not—a Russian translator. This is so unbelievable to everyone that even the president pedantically explains to him that idioms differ by language. They contact the Soviet Union to assure them that, though Moscow might be obliterated, this act should not be interpreted as an act of war. The premier is not impressed, asking why the Americans insist on sending armed planes to Soviet airspace. The call ends with no promises on either side. The Soviets will try to shoot the bombers down, but will also scramble their full defenses.

The planes enter Soviet airspace. The large screen in the command center looks kind of like a primitive video game. It’s unclear who the guys in the command center are cheering for—the Soviets or the Americans. There are those who think that this attack will actually win the cold war (e.g. Matthau’s Groeteschele). The president wants to resolve the situation without death, the unelected generals and technocrats (e.g. Groeteschele) on both sides want the war, they think that they can win. They manage to get the Soviets to admit that they jammed the communication to the airport. The Soviets believed their own computers, which told them that the attack was real—so they have the same problem as the U.S.

The Soviets lift the jamming, but the group leader does not respond to the president’s command to turn around—because he’s been explicitly ordered not to respond to possibly faked voice-tactical commands. The president gets the Soviet premier back on the phone and informs him that he should leave Moscow, that the attack will proceed. When the premier gets pissed, the president blames the lack of being able to shoot the planes down on the Soviets (wildly unfair, but realistic, I suppose).

What’s interesting is that, when such movies are made, they can be very good—and this one is quite good—but there is an important component. It’s always that the U.S. bombers are out of control and the Soviet Union is in danger of being bombed, not the other way around. That is, the situation must be resolved but, if it’s not, then it’s Moscow that goes up in a giant fireball, not Washington.

Matthau’s Groeteschele keeps pushing hard with the standard American argument of “kill or be killed”. The arguments he makes have been carried forward 100% unchanged from 50 years ago.

Gen. Stark: You’re talking about a different kind of war.
Prof. Groeteschele: Exactly. This time, *we* can finish what *we* start. And if we act now, right now, our casualties will be minimal.
Brigadier General Warren A. Black: You know what you’re saying?
Prof. Groeteschele: Do you believe that Communism is not our mortal enemy?
Brigadier General Warren A. Black: You’re justifying murder.
Prof. Groeteschele: Yes, to keep from being murdered.
Brigadier General Warren A. Black: In the name of what? To preserve what? Even if we do survive, what are we? Better than what we say they are? What gives us the right to live, then? What makes us worth surviving, Groeteschele? That we are ruthless enough to strike first?
Prof. Groeteschele: Yes! Those who can survive are the only ones worth surviving.
Brigadier General Warren A. Black: Fighting for your life isn’t the same as murder.
Prof. Groeteschele: Where do you draw the line once you know what the enemy is? How long would the Nazis have kept it up, General, if every Jew they came after had met them with a gun in his hand? But I learned from them, General Black. Oh, I learned.
Brigadier General Warren A. Black: You learned too well, Professor. You learned so well that now there’s no difference between you and what you want to kill.

Prof. Groeteschele also makes another modern prognosis. In discussing what will have to be done when New York is bombed, he lets slip what the really important casualty is.

Prof. Groeteschele:[…] our immediate problem will be the joint one of fire control and excavation. Excavation not of the dead, the effort would be wasted there. But even though there are no irreplaceable government documents in the city, many of our largest corporations keep their records there. It will be necessary to… rescue as many of those records as we can. Our economy depends on this. (Emphasis added.)”

The president orders all of his people to aid the Soviets in any way possible. Colonel Cascio’s hatred of the Soviets makes him incapable of answering, because that will betray to the Soviets how they can shoot any American plane out of the sky. His backup is called—a very young Dom Deluise!—who answers and gives away the ballgame to the dirty commies. Cascio, though, steps up the paranoia an extra ten levels, suspecting the Soviets of having engineered the whole fail-safe mistake in order to get the information about the American planes. Cascio starts exhorting the general to initiate a first strike—then takes over forcefully. He is pulled down and arrested. The Soviets hear everything and sympathize that they also have such elements and situations to handle.

The president of the US doesn’t know what else to do, so he promises the Soviet premier that he will drop the same bombs on New York’s Empire State Building if Moscow is hit. So the U.S. fucked up several times and now is in the position of helping the Soviets down U.S. planes while promising to execute a counterattack on its own city in order to prove that the attack on Moscow was not intentional. To prevent an even greater counterattack by the Soviets, they must sacrifice New York.

The premier and the president talk about whose fault it was. The Soviet premier think it was machines; the president says it was men that let machines get out of control. The phone squeals; Moscow is hit. President Fonda orders the attack on New York.

The movie is extremely open about Dresden, Tokyo, Hamburg, etc. how those were direct attacks on civilians. This movie reminded me a bit of Dr. Strangelove.

The Fisher King (1991) — 8/10

This Terry Gilliam movie starts off with Jeff Bridges’s radio DJ Jack Lukas dragging one person after another through the mud. He ends with a tirade against yuppies, delivered to a lonely introvert who called to ask for help on how to meet a young yuppie woman at an upscale restaurant. Because of Jack’s tirade, he instead goes there with a gun and takes out seven people.

Three years later, Jack is no longer working in radio, but is now “working” at a video rental shop, for Anne, played by Mercedes Ruehl. Jack decides to end it all, with a cement block on each ankle, shockingly drunk, off a pier. He is rescued by Perry, played by Robin Williams. Perry used to be someone else, but his wife was killed 3 years ago at an upscale restaurant. Jack tries for absolution, but he thinks he can find it by giving Perry money. Instead, he will have to help Perry in his quest—to find the holy grail. Robin Williams is amazing in this role. He is Quixote. He follows his Dulcinea around, knowing just as much about her as Quixote did about Dulcinea.

Terry Gilliam’s lovely stamp is all over this film. I’d forgotten how nicely the fantasy/mental-illness elements were integrated into the real world. The effects were really decent for the pre-CGI era.

And then, just when I thought that Robin Williams was the most over-the-top guy in the movie, in strides Michael Jeter, tiny but powerful. A lovely scene when he’s lying comfortably in Jeff Bridges’s arms in the insane asylum. Tom Waits plays a disabled veteran, uncredited but unmistakable.

And so many bits of the film appear in subsequent movies: the waltzing flash mob in Grand Central Station is more poignant than the scene in Friends with Benefits and was made 25 years sooner. As well, when Jack and Perry are in the park, Perry talks about cloud-bursting, a technique I thought I’d heard of for the first time in Men Who Stare at Goats (also with Jeff Bridges, by the way).

Jack tries to help Perry by helping him meet the girl that he’s interested in. This works out grand, and a self-satisfied Jack goes back to work, distancing himself from Anne, who’d devoted years of her life to his useless self. That same night, though, Perry runs through the streets in a fugue, being chased by his demons, afraid to find happiness when his wife is dead. Two street punks happen upon him and beat him into a coma, a coma that is at least partially self-induced. Jack realizes that he still hasn’t saved Perry, that he’s not out of the woods and that he owes his friend more. Lydia visits and hasn’t given up on him. Jack, on the other hand, has gotten his old job back, a new apartment and a new girlfriend. But he feels empty. And he goes to visit Perry to yell at him that he’s not going to get the grail for him. But he will, won’t he?

When next we see Jack, he’s dolled up as a medieval pillager and is assailing the “castle” in New York that belongs to the billionaire who has the grail. The grail turns out to be a trophy given to a child for helping in a Christmas pageant and the billionaire had chosen that night to try to kill himself with pills. Jack saves him by deliberately triggering his house alarm before spiriting the cup off to Perry and saving him as well, so that they can all live happily ever after.

Salvador (1986) — 8/10

This is a movie about the political struggle in 1980. James Woods is Richard Boyle and his sometime-partner/full-time drug dealer is Doctor Rock, played by James Belushi. The film follows Boyle and Rock through El Salvador as the country drowns in violence, filled with military strongmen and opportunists. We see Boyle documenting mountains of bodies as a photojournalist, scrounging for work and cash. We see a priest denounce the terrorist military regime, followed nearly immediately by his assassination. Mayhem ensues.

The reporters spend a lot of time shit-faced drunk while, all around them, the country falls apart, young boys/men are killed by shock troops, taking advantage of cheap booze and cheap whores. All the while, doctors from aid organizations try to keep things together.

Boyle is ambushed outside of his last bar of the evening by the strongman Max Casanova’s (Tony Plana) number-one henchman (Juan Fernández) and is almost killed but is saved by another photojournalist John Cassady, who starts taking pictures of the whole thing. His doctor friend isn’t so lucky: she is ambushed on the way to the airport with her colleagues. They are torn from their van, raped, shot in the face and thrown into a shallow group grave. This based on a true story, by the way. The case was mentioned and partially covered as one of the examples of media distortion in Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent.

Boyle talks to members of the American ambassador’s office, all of whom are either opportunists or utter dimwits who completely believe the U.S. communist line, completely believe that Cuban tanks will be on the border of Texas within the year. The U.S. never changes: for El Salvador think Afghanistan—the U.S. loves to destroy its playgrounds. Oliver Stone’s direction shines through in the scenes with the American apparatchiks, where Boyle holds forth on forbidden history (about 85 minutes in).

Boyle: When will you believe what your eyes see and not what military intelligence tells you to think?
Colonel:. We got AWACs, infrareds, statements from a defecting FRAN commandant and enough military intel to prove 10,000 percent that this ain’t no civil war, but Commie aggression.
Boyle: You’ve been lying about that from the beginning. You’ve not presented one shred of proof to the American public that this is anything other than a legitimate peasant revolution. So please don’t tell me about the sanctity of military intelligence. Not after Chile and Vietnam. I was there, remember? […] You’ve been lying about the advisers here. You’ve been lying about the trainers on TTY. […] You’ve been lying about switching humanitarian assistance money to Salvadoran military coffers. And you’ve been lying that this war can be won militarily, it can’t.


Boyle: You were the ones who trained Major Max at the police academy in Washington. You were the ones who trained Jose Medrano and Rene Chacon. Trained them to torture and kill, then sent them here. What did Chacon give us? He gave us the Mano Blanco. What are the death squads, but the brainchild of the CIA? You’ll run with them because they’re anti-Moscow. You let them close the universities, wipe out the best minds. You let them kill whoever they want, you let them wipe out the Catholic Church. You let them do it all because they aren’t Commies. And that, colonel, is bullshit.

Boyle: All I know is that some campesino who can’t read or write or feed his family, has to watch his kid die of malnutrition. Do you think he gives a shit about Marxism or capitalism?

Boyle: You pour $120 million in here and turn it into a military zone. So you can have chopper parades in the sky? You’re only bringing misery to these people.

Shortly after this conversation, we are shown another journalist interviewing American soldiers putting their boots on the ground in El Salvador—and she is reminded by their commanding officer that they are strictly “trainers…in an advisory capacity.” Of course they are. Just like the U.S. troops that are still in Iraq and who magically don’t count toward the “troops” in-country.

The next scene is in a full-out battle. The combat photographers—Boyle and John Cassady—wave a white flag and cross over to the side of the state troops. They are utterly insane in their desire to get photos, running into the maw of firing troops and onrushing horses. At the tail end of one battle won by the campesinos, said campesinos start mopping up the state troops by executing them. Boyle tries to intervene, yelling “you’ve become just like them!” And then the U.S.-provided tanks and munitions arrive, as well as air support. The campesinos are routed and the military dictatorship resumes its iron grip. Go Joe! John jumps out in front of an incoming plane to get “the shot” and is instead fatally wounded. Boyle performs some pretty amazing field surgery to clear John’s lungs, but it’s not enough.

Boyle had been shot as well, and heads back to a field hospital to get patched up. Soon after, he tries to escape El Salvador with a fake exit visa and is caught at the border with his wife/girlfriend and child. The border guards steal his boots and Cassady’s film rolls fall out. They expose all the film and he’s livid, heedless of his own life. They try to assassinate him, but the gun misfires. He is saved by the ambassador’s phone call and we then see him partying with the guys who were going to kill him, all the while insulting them in English, which they don’t understand.

Next, he’s crossing the border to the U.S:, having escaped El Salvador with Maria and the kids. The bus is stopped by U.S. immigration and they take her away from him, after his whole struggle. “You have no idea what it’s like in El Salvador!” Nor do they care. Fuck those aliens. Send ‘em back. Filthy freeloaders. Just because they fucked up their own country doesn’t mean they get to come to the shiny U.S.

Does anything ever get better? Based on a true story, based on real people. At the end of the film, it’s mentioned that Boyle is still searching for Maria and his children. Recommended. Oliver Stone made this movie in the same year that he made Platoon. Saw it English and Spanish (without subtitles).