Savages

Savages is the work of an auteur having fun, but with little regard for quality or art. It’s a sensational movie and I mean that in the sense that a tabloid is filled with sensational news. Lurid, sleazy and colorful, it’s a movie that seeks to entertain with brazen force. It’s startling and memorable, but also superficial and trashy. To a certain extent it succeeds. Lately Oliver Stone’s track record hasn’t been as solid as it once was in the 80s. Yet he’s still able to entice talented stars to his productions. There’s a trio of powerhouse supporting parts that very nearly save the picture.

Savages tells the tale of marijuana growers Ben (the brains) and Chon (the brawn) a couple of best friends living in Laguna Beach who have become very successful at what they do. They share a girlfriend of sorts named Ophelia. Nicknamed “O” she and her men have sex, grow pot, make lots of money. Their glossy, sun soaked ménage à trois lifestyle is photographed like a 70s travelogue for Saint-Tropez. Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson and Blake Lively occupy the starring roles. They’re outwardly attractive but hollow charisma has the combined personality of a single Mylar balloon. That’s not really an issue because they’re supposed to be a hedonistic trio of beach loving, California friends. They nail their parts. Over dinner Ophelia likens their relationship to the one in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and my mind questioned whether such a vacant airhead would have even ever heard of that film.

Savages is highlighted by a trio of supporting performances by a game cast that are in on the joke of this ridiculous spectacle. Ben and Chon’s business attract the attention of a Mexican drug cartel. Elena Sánchez is the head of this gang and she sends her representatives to make an offer to form a partnership with her intimidating group. Known as La Reina or The Queen, Salma Hayek inhabits the role with gusto. She sports Bettie Page bangs and a chunky diamond necklace that would make Joan Crawford envious. It is a bit hard to believe that a woman so concerned with fashion and makeup would be such a ruthless powerful drug cartel leader but that’s what makes the role so deliciously absurd. She’s joined by Benicio del Toro who depicts her right hand henchman. He delivers his lines with a hilariously thick Mexican accent. At some points it’s almost a parody of a voice, like Speedy Gonzales played at half the speed. Also adding to the fun is John Travolta in a “why me” portrayal as a slimy DEA agent covering both sides. It’s a liberating display and welcome comic relief every time he’s on screen.

In the end, the narrative is simply too sloppy. There are moments of genuine promise. When Ben and Chon finally go on the offensive, their planned attack on the cartel is an exhilarating frenzy of excitement. But right after, the chronicle flounders with assorted scenes that do nothing to advance character or plot. For each brilliant segment that accelerates the script in a good way there are 3 more that knock it back. At 130 minutes, there are long stretches that could have easily been edited out that would’ve made the drama tighter and much more engaging. Blake Lively’s flat toned narration isn’t any comfort. It feels like death whenever the director lazily relies on her dispassionate intonations to help carry the story. Additionally several scenes dwell on unpleasant details to no apparent purpose other than to disgust the viewer. Savages will have interest for some viewers who can look past all the problems. Ultimately the negatives outweighed the positives for me to truly recommend this film.

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28 Responses to “Savages”

  1. This film definitely had its moments where it thrilled me and kept me excited, but for some reason, I felt like there could have been more of those moments. The cast is great though, with the exception of some dull performances from Lively and Kitsch. Honestly, that dude is having a bad year. Good review Mark.

    • Poor Taylor Kitsch. Remember in the movie Mean Girls when Lacey Chabert’s character keeps saying “That is so fetch!” and Rachel McAdams criticizes her “stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!”

      Well that’s kind of how I feel bout Taylor Kitsch’s career. He’s been given THREE starring roles this year: John Carter, Battleship and now Savages. Um stop trying to make Taylor Kitsch happen!

  2. I was quite taken the first time I saw a trailer for it and really wanted Stone to get back to his former glory but reviews seem to be mostly middling. Maybe one day…

    • Famed movie critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave this film a glowing review, so who’s to say you wouldn’t also. It’s no secret that Stone’s scripts for Midnight Express and Scarface were a big influence on Quentin Tarantino. Now it looks as though things have come full circle. Savages feels inspired by Tarantino‘s work. It has its moments, but personally I think it’s lesser Oliver Stone.

      P.S. Ebert also gave Snow White and the Huntsman a glowing review. Oops!

      • I normally take Ebert’s words close to heart but his Snow White review did give me pause. I think many would disagree with his 4 star Prometheus review as well. My wife wants to see Savages too despite the lukewarm press its received on the whole, so maybe we will catch a matinee of it sometime. Thanks!

    • Oh I loved Prometheus so I would have to agree with him on that one.

  3. martin250 Says:

    Nice review. this looks like the kind of story that Tarantino might write. like his True Romance, maybe.

    • Good call. I just responded to the comment above referencing Tarantino before I even read your comment. Actually it shares similarities with Tony Scott’s direction as well so the comparison is dead on.

      However, True Romance is a much MUCH better movie.

  4. So this falls under the category of slightly below average entertainment that isn’t worth it. For my next theater trip I’ll see something else.

    Out of all these just entertainment movies Safe House was the best one. But I know we disagree on that. Still, great review.

  5. If it wasn’t for a solid cast, I think this movie would have been much worse than it was. I could have liked this movie if there was more action and a better story to go with what the actors did.

    • Yeah so much of the film was them talking about what they were going to do instead of just doing it. The part where they attacked was the most exciting.

  6. Hey Mark (or Mr. Hobin), I recently did a little interview for a blog you most likely know. Here’s the link if you care to check it out, you might just learn something about me you don’t already know. http://myfilmviews.com/2012/07/11/the-moviesite-spotlight-alecs-movie-reviews/

  7. Looks like too much sex, drugs, and violence, and not enough of an interesting plot. Nothing that would really interest me. I’m not a big fan of Stone. Maybe that’s because I’ve only seen two of his films. The director’s cut of JFK, which I absolutely loved, and W., which I absolutely hated. Guess I need to see more of him, but I certainly won’t start with Savages. Fantastic review, Mark.

    • Platoon and 1987’s Wall Street are absolutely essential Oliver Stone viewing.

      • Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind. I was bored one day about a month or two ago, so I decided to look up “film personality test” or something like that. One of the personality tests compared me to Platoon. I’d like to see Charlie Sheen in a dramatic role, like the two you mention. Hopefully he’s as “winning” (pun intended) as I hear. Just dear God, please no tiger blood. :)

  8. Nice review, Mark! I’m really looking forward to this one, mainly because of the cast. It opens here this Friday and the city is flooded with publicity. Let’s see what I think.

  9. I did kinda like this for the intensity and ridiculous – ness of it all. I like laughing at scenes that are supposed to be serious. This movie had a lot of those.

  10. It had much interest and the problems you speak of I not only looked past but didn’t see as problems – I think this is one of Oliver Stone’s best and one of the year’s as well

  11. sanclementejedi Says:

    I thought this was good but not great, I could have done with out Lively’s ditzy character providing philosophical narration. I think I am a bit biased since so many scenes took place in familar places. I am not sure others unfamiliar with the locations would enjoy it as much.

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