Final Day, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi
Based on the book Sal Mineo, A Biography by Michael Gregg Michaud, Sal is a film directed by James Franco depicting February 12, 1976, the last day of actor Sal Mineo’s life. By focusing on the mundane (a trip to the gym, a snuggle with a friend’s puppy), Franco humanizes Mineo in a way that makes his death all the more tragic. Val Lauren delivers a solid performance as Sal Mineo, conveying a carefree nature with an energy that’s fun to watch.
Vintage news clips reporting Sal Mineo’s death bookend the film and provide some context to his career. There is a lot going on, but Sal is not a film that pauses to explain things to you. There are fleeting meetings regarding McCaffrey, a film that is set to be Mineo’s directorial debut. He’s often on the phone with friends and family, but you only hear his side of the conversation. A haunting performance of Where Flamingos Fly by Helen Merrill always accompanies the soft focus over the shoulder shots of Mineo on his frequent drives, providing a sort of surrealist dread.
Sal details Mineo’s homosexuality as something he wasn’t afraid to hide in his day-to-day life. In fact, he embraces it, playing the role of a gay thief in a rehearsal of James Kirkwood, Jr.’s play P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. This scene is a true highlight of the film. Watching Sal Mineo giggling when Keir Dullea (played by Jim Parrack of True Blood fame) can’t memorize or deliver his lines correctly is hilarious and mesmerizing to watch. Mineo’s murder is shot from a distance and is shockingly brief. It comes across as realistic and disturbing. The vintage news clip near the end of the film does a great job at summarizing the bizarre logic behind the arrest of Lionel Ray Williams for the murder of Sal Mineo two years later.
By focusing on one day in Sal Mineo’s life, Sal feels more intimate than other biopics. The strong lead performance of Val Lauren as Sal Mineo provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of a talented actor that was cut all too short.