Movie Review - Sal (2013)

Sal Mineo was nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The second time was for Exodus (1960). His first nomination and probably his most famous role was for playing troubled teenager Plato in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), co-starring alongside James Dean. This role certainly put Mineo on the map and almost instantly shot him into the Hollywood stratosphere. However, it was quickly revealed behind the scenes that Mineo was gay, a fact that he didn't really hide. As a result, it became difficult for him in the 60s to get certain movies that he wanted. He started to struggle in the film world and ran into financial troubles. Things got hard, and it wasn't until the mid-70s that his career began to rebound, but, like his Rebel Without a Cause co-stars, Mineo's life was cut short tragically when on February 12, 1976, Mineo was murdered, having been stabbed in the chest outside his West Hollywood apartment at night. Mineo died at the age of 37.

Instead of depicting or showing what those 37 years were like, director James Franco focuses on February 12, that last day of Mineo's life. Franco's approach is similar to the recent Fruitvale Station where he's using the last day as the ultimate example of showing who Mineo was, which could be a good approach, but the life of Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station could be reduced to one day. As to say, it could be explored and even fully developed in short span. The same can't be said about Mineo. Limiting this movie to one day loses so much about Mineo's life.

Based on the book Sal Mineo: A Biography by Michael Gregg Michaud, the screenplay by Stacey Miller is certainly informed properly but so much doesn't translate that it was difficult to even care about the Mineo depicted here. Franco's direction and his choices don't help either. Franco opens with a news report of Mineo's death that was mentioned rather nonchalantly and quickly and then the anchor moved on to the weather report without any pause or indication that his death meant anything or was significant at all.

It's odd because at the end of the movie Franco shows a different report by NBC News that shows Mineo's corpse uncovered lying in the middle of the street. I can't speak as to what the mindset was for the TV news reporters in 1976, but today, it is rare, very rare, that an uncovered corpse would be broadcast as brazenly as it was then. Again, the idea in retrospect makes it seem like Mineo didn't matter and certainly that his death wasn't anything to be respected.

I don't suppose that this was Franco's intention. That would have been bold and daring of Franco, but I don't think his goal was ultimately to depict Mineo as someone who didn't matter. That being said, I'm not sure what Franco's purpose here was. If it was simply to depict Mineo's last day, then that's fine but that doesn't do justice to Mineo's life and the true tragedy his loss was.

Honestly, there are only two scenes that are interesting at all. The first is a scene where Sal Mineo, played by Val Lauren, meets with Billy Belasco, his agent or perhaps producing partner, played by Vince Jolivette. It's a meeting where Sal talks about how he wants to direct his upcoming movie, and what he wants it to be about. Billy voices concerns that the studio might have, given that the movie features a homosexual rape.

Recently, James Franco spoke out about how Australia's Office of Film and Literature Classification banned the gay film I Want Your Love by Travis Matthews from playing at the Sydney Mardi Gras Film Festival due to its depiction of gay sex. Franco didn't think it was fair and posted a video saying as much. The scene between Sal and Billy is an expression or an extension of that conflict. So, on that level, it was a compelling scene.

The only other scene that was interesting in the slightest was when Sal goes to the Westwood Playhouse to rehearse the play he was set to star. It was called P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. Sal's co-star on the stage was Keir Dullea, played by Jim Parrack (True Blood). Keir was famous for playing the main character in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and it was simply funny watching this rehearsal because it got to a point where it seems that Keir was not the best actor for that role. Keir forgets his lines. He gets confused easily. Clearly, he needs way more direction than Sal from the theater director who was Milton Katselas, played by James Franco himself.

Watching Mineo's reactions is brilliant and getting the feeling generated through the dynamic between Keir and Milton is fun as well. If you haven't seen the play or the movie based on it, the scene-within-the-scene will seem bizarre, but that in itself can be brilliant to discover and piece together.

The rest of the movie though is rather boring. We see a too long sequence of Sal at the gym. We see a too long sequence of Sal going to the toilet, then making coffee and finally drinking juice out of the carton. There are various other scenes that feel really random and that make no sense because there's no context. For example, we see Sal go to a clinic and get an injection and we don't know why. Sal meets a sassy black woman who complains about his lack of cleaning and we don't know who she is.

A lot of it doesn't seem all that informative or insightful into Mineo's life. One scene where Sal is on the phone talking about his family does so, but everything else felt like padding.

I also have to add that the real Sal Mineo was a very, very beautiful boy. Mineo wasn't just handsome. He was gorgeous. No offense to Val Lauren, but he is nowhere near as good-looking as Mineo was, even at the age of 37, so just seeing Lauren took me out of the movie because his presence always felt less than Mineo.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 26 mins.
Available via VOD everywhere.
Amazon, iTunes and cable TV


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