Film Review “Sal”

salStarring: Val Lauren and James Franco
Directed by: James Franco
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour 43 mins
Tribeca Films

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

“No, no, no, Sal Mineo, I would never stoop so low.”

The above line is from the song “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee” made popular in the Broadway musical, “Grease.” In the film version the line has been removed and replaced with one about Elvis. The reason? On February 12, 1976 Sal Mineo was stabbed to death and the lyrics were changed out of respect for a talent that left this world too soon. And it is that talent (and drive) that makes up the story of “Sal.”

We meet Sal Mineo (a mesmerizing Val Lauren) as he works out at the gym. Having just turned 37 Mineo presents himself as a man ten years younger. A quick lunch with his agent, who is brokering a film project Sal is involved in, and it’s off to rehearsal of a new play he is starring in. Though Sal doesn’t know it, this will be his last day on earth and he’s doing his best to make the most of it.

Filmed almost exclusively in close-ups on practically bare sets, “Sal” rides almost exclusively on the muscular shoulders of Lauren. It is a brilliant performance, with the young actor perfectly catching the tone and cadence of Mineo’s speech and demeanor. This is not simply an impersonation, this is an actor that has gone “all in” on a performance and doesn’t disappoint. At the time of his death, Mineo was starring in an Los Angeles-based production of the play, “P.S. Your Cat Is Dead” and parts of “Sal” eavesdrop on a rehearsal. We take the rehearsal in via the back of the head of the director (Franco), whose face we never see. What we do see is the pure pleasure that Mineo felt whenever he was performing. Though he was a two-time Academy Award nominee, Mineo’s star began to fade in the 1960s. His final film appearance put him behind a mask when he played Dr. Milo in “Escape From the Planet of the Apes.”

Technically the film is almost documentary in style. Director Franco’s use of close-ups, single cameras and long takes ensure that the only thing that will occupy the screen are the performances. As a tribute to its subject I wouldn’t want to see it any other way.

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