Savages Sinks Despite Stone
- Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2012 4 Jul
DVD Release Date: November 13, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: July 6, 2012
Rating: R (for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout)
Run Time: 130 min.
Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta, Salma Hayek
Whether it was the kinder, gentler Gordon Gekko who emerged when Oliver Stone re-visited Wall Street in 2010’s Money Never Sleeps or the biography of former president George W. Bush that wasn’t nearly as controversial as audiences were expecting in 2008’s W, there’s been no shortage of critics who’ve suggested that the writer/director has simply lost some of his former gravitas.
Stone seems fiercely determined to put that notion to rest with the brazenly violent Savages, where he re-visits two of his favorite subjects: the tangled web that people often find themselves in when drugs are involved (see: 1978’s Midnight Express and 1983’s Scarface) and protagonists driven to edge of madness by a quest for the truth or perilous circumstances (see: 1986’s Platoon, 1991’s JFK, 1994’s Natural Born Killers or 1997’s U Turn).
Based on the Don Winslow novel by the same name, Savages is something you’d expect Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) or Robert Rodriguez (Machete) to naturally gravitate toward, thanks to no shortage of opportunities for shocking bursts of violence. But for Stone, the guy you wouldn’t think of for something like this, co-writing and directing Savages allows him to re-establish himself with a story that skews toward a decidedly younger demographic—a shot at continued relevancy as he inches closer to his 70th birthday.
Trouble is, while Savages will certainly satisfy the blood lust of those who appreciate movies with a high body count, the younger actors simply aren’t up to the task of carrying this morbid morality tale. Perhaps even more laughable than the amateurish performances of Taylor Kitsch (Battleship), Aaron Johnson (Albert Nobbs) and Blake Lively (Green Lantern), who look like they accidentally wandered on the wrong set when they were really scheduled for an Abercrombie & Fitch photo op, is the story’s faulty set-up.
Yes, the Women’s Movement has officially taken another giant leap backward, thanks to Ophelia (Lively), who’d prefer you ditch any reference to Shakespeare and simply call her “O.” Lacking any ambition of her own, she’s tall and pretty, sporting perfect beach hair. Underneath that veneer, however, is a slew of problems. In addition to being estranged from her family (who she routinely lies to), she’s the girlfriend of not one, but two men who happen to be best friends.
Content to share her equally, even in bed, Chon (Kitsch) and Ben (Johnson) also make sure she enjoys their lavish Laguna Beach lifestyle complete with all the supersonic pot you can smoke. See, when Chon was busy serving his country in Afghanistan, he stumbled upon some seeds that allowed his botanist pal Ben to invent some of the most potent weed in the world.
Legally selling medicinal marijuana by day, the duo makes the bulk of their cash by shipping their stash out of state. While Chon is clearly the brawn of the operation, Ben is the heart. While he’s clearly stumbled into a good situation from a materialistic perspective, Ben, is still determined to give back—a by-product of his Buddhist beliefs.
But even with the California sunshine and the gentle waves of the Pacific serving as a picturesque backdrop, it doesn’t take long for this trio’s semi-charmed life to seriously unravel. When Chon and Ben fail to satisfy the demands of a crumbling Mexican cartel that wants to partner with them, the cartel savagely retaliates by stealing that which Chon and Ben love the most: O.
But getting her back and, eventually, running their business on their own terms again proves more than challenging with a conniving mastermind (Salma Hayek, The Pirates! Band of Misfits), a corrupt federal officer (John Travolta, Hairspray), and the comically ruthless muscle of the operation (a scene-stealing Benicio Del Toro, Things We Lost in the Fire) in the mix.
In fact, it requires a suspension of belief of gargantuan proportions, which is precisely why Savages never quite works. While Stone goes to great lengths to shock, he forgets that great leaps of logic don’t exactly help the plot. Worse yet, you sense that the filmmakers eventually realize the error of their ways, which is why they won’t even commit to an ending.
While some may call the non-ending "an exhilarating twist," others will conclude it’s basically par for the course in a story that wasn’t adding up from the beginning. If anything, Savages is just another instance where style clearly takes precedence over making the story’s larger point with conviction. Common sense and meaningful takeaway value are kicked to the curb in favor of cheap thrills.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Recreational drug use, namely of the supercharged pot and cocaine, is depicted throughout. Even when O is imprisoned, she needs her “little pick me up.”
- Language/Profanity: The full spectrum of profanity is utilized, mostly the “f” word. There are also instances where God’s name is misused or paired with “da--.” A middle finger is extended.
- Sex/Nudity: As mentioned before, O has not one, but two boyfriends, and they both enjoy sexual privileges—sometimes even at the same time. We see her sleep with both Chon and Ben, and the scenes are very gritty and graphic. O is also taken advantage of by Lado in her drug-infused haze, and the disturbing footage is shown to her when she’s not high. A woman is shown topless in one scene, while there’s some rear male nudity in others. Discussion of O’s orgasms and Chon’s “wargasms.”
- Violence: There are random—and not-so-random—bursts of violence throughout the movie. We see a close-up of several men who’ve been decapitated with their bloody heads lined up. We also get an up-close-and-personal view of a couple of men who were crucified and hung upside down. A man is tortured and forced to admit to a crime he didn’t commit in order to save his family. A man’s hand is impaled. A bodyguard is shot by a man posing as a police officer at very close range. Several trucks (with people inside) are blown up with explosives. A woman is killed, and we see blood dramatically emerge from her breasts.
- Religion/Morals: Of O’s two beaus, Ben is the savage with the proverbial heart of gold. He may be in the drug trade, but Ben says he’s committed to using his wealth to do good in Africa “like Bono does.” He equates his moral center to practicing Buddhism and initially, he’s nervous about committing crimes because it’ll mess with his karma.
Publication date: July 6, 2012