By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Demian Bichir, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek and John Travolta
Oliver Stone is one of those directors that when he is on, he is REALLY good. With films like Platoon, JFK, and even to a lesser extent Natural Born Killers, Stone has, at certain stages of his career, found ways to engross a viewer in the story he has brought forth, while at the same time make you think long and hard about what exactly he was trying to say with the images he displays. However, Stone has also been known to occasionally walk a line that is not quite as effective. Agendas that he brings to movies like Nixon, The Doors, and Alexander are ones that have the exact opposite effect. You don’t learn a thing more about characters at the end of the film than you knew in the beginning, and there are instances in his constantly long running times that you have no contempt or feeling towards the characters onscreen. Basically, you are counting down the minutes until the film ends. Where does his latest film Savages (based on the great best selling book by Don Winslow) fall, you may ask? Full of one despicable character after another, one note performances, and enough horrible dialogue to fill an extra three pages of any Twilight script, Savages is perhaps the most disappointed I have ever been walking out of an Oliver Stone film.
Say what you will about all of the films mentioned above. But one thing I have always been is a fan of Stone’s work. I think filmmakers like him are needed. He brings a style that you really can’t help but fixate your eyes on. He can build drama among any situation (look at Any Given Sunday to see what I mean). But, in Savages, Stone seems to have pulled his punches a bit. Don’t get me wrong. There is enough gratuitous sex, graphic language and blood stained violence to keep any fan of any combination of these things happy. But, Stone, with the exception of a few black & white flashes and orange tinge over the camera has decided instead to shoot Savages pretty cut & dry. And, in a story like this, I feel that was a mistake. Not that this technique would have made me warm up to Lively’s character of Ophelia (or O as she likes to be called. Get it?). Savages is narrated by O, and the way Lively has literally no utter contempt for her consequences makes no sense whatsoever. She makes no bones about the fact that she is sleeping with two guys who have gotten themselves into trouble with their latest business decision involving marijuana. O, at no point, makes me care for her. And yes, I know: Natural Born Killers, Stone’s film from 1994, was full of people not worth giving a damn about. But, at least when that movie was over, it kind of forced you to think about how we the public and the media itself treat serial killers. When Savages was over, all I was thinking was where did that 131 minutes go?
As usual, Stone has filled his cast with all stars. However, with the exception of Kitsch and Del Toro, no one brings anything to the table. Travolta (who hasn’t been getting the best press as of late) is a shell of what he was as Vincent Vega. And here, he plays almost a mentor role to the two guys who are in trouble with a cartoonishness that just doesn’t work for him anymore. Hayek is the leader of the baddies named Elena, who at least attempts to have an arc. But, after watching an hour and a half of what she does to these characters, the twist the writers gave her character had no bearing on me. Kitsch once again proves that if given a good script, there is no telling how bright his star would shine. Because, this is the third movie in a row that he has done this year (including John Carter, which I actually enjoyed, and the highly avoidable Battleship) in which he shows areas of brightness, but his full star isn’t being shown just quite yet because he really has had nothing to work with. He does what he can here, and he does as nice of a job as he can at juxtaposing that the scars he got from the war were more than just physical. Stone didn’t play this up as much as he should have. Surprising, given Stone’s track record with war scarred veterans. And poor Del Toro (who, while sporting a healthy mustache and mullet looks more like The Wolfman than ever). He is given the task of playing Elena’s lackey, and his character of Lado brings the few moments of enjoyment that I got out of any member of this cast. The guy can make a scene as simple as eating a sandwich dramatic. However, the big highlight for me was watching him snort drugs while a leaf blower goes off at the exact same time. It was a funny scene and Del Toro plays it perfectly.
With the exception of that one scene, is there ANYTHING to like about Savages? There were a couple other things. I did enjoy Adam Peters’ score. And, if there was one thing Stone did right here, it was action. I liked the fact that it really picks up around three quarters of its running time, and it was nice seeing Stone direct some gunplay again. If anything, it proves that the guy can still stage some great action scenes, and it would be nice to see what he would be able to do with a full on action film. But, that was not to be here, folks. And, if I wasn’t disappointed by now, I sure would have been once the film’s ending (or is it?) kicks in. That two story movie screen almost got the last of my soda as the 18 wheeler known as the twist ending was coming through the tunnel. Do yourselves a favor and skip this one, folks. Tarantino might not have liked what Stone did with his Natural Born Killers script. But, it sure as hell was more fun watching the director have Harrelson and Lewis sprout dialogue and kill like Bonnie & Clyde than watch these characters mumble through their lines and kill just because the poorly written script told them to.
2 out of 5