Runtime: 2 HR, 10 MIN
Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Don Winslow, Shane Salerno, and Oliver Stone
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, Emile Hirsch, and John Travolta
There was a time when the words “An Oliver Stone Film” meant something… that time has passed. He’s gone from being a respected filmmaker with some outlandish views to conspiracy theorist that also happens to still make films. Savages desperately tries to recapture the ‘magic’ of Natural Born Killers and U Turn but it fails to stop the continued hemorrhaging of Stone’s once proud career.
Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) run a successful pot business to together. Their perfect lives are thrown into turmoil when a rival operation from south of the border makes them an ‘offer’ to give up life as an independent and join their cartel. When they refuse the cartel’s offer their shared girlfriend O (Blake Lively) is kidnapped. The duo decides it’s time to act like savages to get her back.
We’re barely halfway through 2012 at the time of this writing but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Savages will be the most pretentious film of the year. Blake Lively pulls narration duty for Savages; if you think this sounds like a terrible idea on paper wait until you actually hear it. This quick bit of her narration detailing her sexual experiences with Chon (an Iraqi War Veteran) should give you an idea of how well the narration goes… “I had orgasms. Chon had wargasms.” There are also countless references to the religious epiphany weed can lead to which is nicely contrasted by scenes of rape, torture, and murder that is associated with drug trafficking.
Veteran actors Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta mark the acting high point for Savages. The pair only share a single scene together but that one scene is the highlight of a film filled with missed opportunities. Being a co-star and not THE star of Savages benefited Travolta immensely; his ‘shtick’ works so much better when given in small doses. Del Toro’s a bit of a mixed bag; he’s deliciously evil but you can’t really root for him since he’s a remorseless murderer and rapist. Nevertheless he dives head first into the role and wears his mullet with Latino pride.
2012 has been a tough year for Taylor Kitsch; he was the star of both John Carter and Battleship which were financial disappointments. He fares a better here as Chon especially in the scenes were he’s paired with Travolta who seemed to elevate the acting of those around him. Kickass star Aaron Johnson plays Ben, the hippy’ish drug lord with a heart of gold. I grew tired of his whining and “let’s make the world a better place” mantra while turning a blind eye to his partner’s violent tactics. In the end however the uneven writing of Ben’s character is the least of Savages’ problems.
The main problems in Savages are threefold in the form of Oliver Stone, Blake Lively and Salma Hayek.
• Stone tries desperately to make Savages his swan song to weed; he lists the benefits of its usage and how it will make the world a better place and then shows the horrific acts of violence the drug trade causes. The message that violence wouldn’t exist if weed was legal is touched upon but the message gets lost in tremendous amount of violence. Technically Savages looks fantastic but the story is a severe weak point. More time should have been spent on the storyline surrounding O’s rescue instead of trying to bring down the cartel. As it stands it’s a tedious and convoluted mess that works the word “savages” into the script far too many times.
• In Ben Affleck’s The Town Blake Lively played a sleazy looking whore and in Savages she plays a similar role. O is hard to identify with, nor is she a very sympathetic character. Even though she’s been kidnapped and there’s the constant threat of death hanging over her head she’s more concerned with what she’s having for dinner or her outfit. She is completely miscast and the script does her no favors, simply being an attractive actress looking dirty does not make her right for the role.
• Actresses that scream their dialogue have a funny way of ruining films for me (see Sharon Stone in Casino & Penélope Cruz in Blow). Salma Hayek isn’t quite that bad but she’s still loud and a walking cliché. She’s a cold, calculating, and ruthless woman that has no qualms with torturing or killing anyone that stands in her way. If that was her only role in the film it would be tolerable but we’re treated to strange side plots involving her Americanized daughter who wants nothing to do with her, conversations about horses, and her cleavage heavy nightwear that she wears in rooms filled with crucifixes. Stone tries to do too much with her, sometimes having a one-dimensional villain can works to the film’s advantage.
Savages isn’t Oliver Stone’s return to form that many fans were hoping for. I have to imagine that something was lost from the book to the screen because this is a convoluted and pretentious mess. There are a few worthwhile performances and a few memorable scenes but overall Savages offers very little in entertainment value. If you do decide to see Savages keep an eye out for the Clue movie moment and ask yourself one question, “Is this necessary or just pretentious?”