Friday, December 14, 2012

Savages [film review]

Released theatrically in July; now available on all home video platforms

Director Oliver Stone follows up 2010's underrated Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps with Savages, which sees the filmmaker returning to the flashy, sexed-up, and violent type of crime drama that he successfully crafted back in the 90s with U Turn and one of my favourite movies of the decade, Natural Born Killers. Savages once again implements, to a lesser degree, some of the hyper-stylized visual elements of the latter through the manipulation of both the film image and editing, plus the usage of graphics. Sometimes the director's choices work and other times they just come across as weird and self-indulgent, such as in the case of the fantasy scene set in a cartoonish-looking Paris where Stone gives himself a brief and jarring cameo, dancing around giddily with an umbrella.    

The film's premise: Chon (played by Taylor Kitsch, at least salvaging a little of his 2012 after starring turns in box office calamities Battleship and John Carter) and Ben (played by Kick-Ass himself, Aaron Johnson) are best friends who run a flourishing marijuana-growing operation in California. They're also knowingly and comfortably involved in an unusual love triangle with a woman named O (played by Blake Lively). When Chon and Ben turn down an offer to go into business with a Mexican drug cartel run by a woman named Elena (played by Salma Hayek), the proverbial guano hits the fan as Elena has O kidnapped in order to get the pair onboard with her business proposition. Double-crosses and much brutal violence ensues as O's men come after her.

Savages should probably crash and burn due to the underwhelming roles of its three leads. Their love triangle concept never quite seems fully formed and the characters feel flat, particularly Lively's. That becomes a problem when the film's main storyline involves Chon and Ben both risking their lives to get Lively's character back. The free-spirited O, who advances the narrative through an over-usage of voiceovers, just hasn't been written with enough substance to justify the pair's strenuous and desperate efforts. She's gorgeous, but that's about it. Stone and co-screenwriters Shane Salerno and Don Winslow (the film is based on his 2010 novel of the same name) also saddle Lively with some dreadfully clunky dialogue. In comparing her two men, she refers to the mellow Ben as a Buddhist and the intense Chon as "a baddist", and in reference to having sex with Chon, a former Navy SEAL, she says "I have orgasms, he has wargasms". Seriously, scribes? The film's wobbly ending also does it no favours.


Luckily, Savages can rely on an excellent secondary cast to pick up the slack. Hayek is fantastic as the beautiful and ruthless drug lord, with the writers nicely giving Elena a weak spot that allows for an intriguing vulnerability to inhabit her otherwise thoroughly vicious character. Benicio Del Toro, as Elena's crude and sadistic enforcer, contributes his signature brand of compelling weirdness and emerges as Savages' best character (while sporting a hysterical mullet). And in a rare quality role for him, John Travolta also appears in a limited capacity playing a corrupt DEA agent.

Savages, despite the significant hole at its centre with some far from dynamic primary characters, is still a decent enough thriller worth your time, mostly due to the very fine supporting work from Hayek, Del Toro, and Travolta. 

Rating: B-

3 comments:

  1. The sentence about the "platonic relationship" doesn't really make sense to me, otherwise it was a good review. Benicio steals this film!!!!

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    Replies
    1. Well, that's embarrassing. Thanks for the heads up...it's been fixed. I have no idea why I used "platonic" when I really meant "polygamous". I read and re-read these reviews a good 10-20 times while writing them and must have zoned out on that one.

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  2. I enjoyed Savages and think Kitsch got a bad rap this year. His other 2 movies weren't nearly as bad as they were made out to be.

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