Universal Pictures, Rated R
Following on the heels of critical letdowns such as World Trade Center, W., and Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, Oliver Stone’s latest directorial effort, Savages, delivers; unfortunately, its just not enough. Stone’s latest outing seemingly promised a return to form for the director, but what audiences will find is an unbalanced plot with misguided development, awkward pacing, and schizophrenic themes.
The story focuses on two ‘entrepreneurs,’ Ben (Aaron Johnson), peaceful Buddhist brains of the operation, and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a former NAVY seal mercenary type. The two run a homegrown marijuana business, and share everything, including lovers, here in the form of Blake Lively’s Ophelia. As the business grows, a violent drug cartel seeks them out to partner with them, and they ultimately decline. As a result, the cartel kidnaps Ophelia. Ben and Chon then begin an all out war on crime to get their girl back.
Take a breath.
The story plays out pretty plainly, relying more on actors that plot. Stone chooses his focus wisely here, as the plot is not half as engrossing as his cast. The only issue with this is after a while the story sags as its thin plot is overstretched. Some solid set pieces are on display alongside bold imagery, and solid cinematography; however, visuals alone are not enough to save this film.
One of the film’s highlights is Benicio del Toro, whom plays Lado, an enforcer for the villainous drug cartel; however, this highlight turns rather dim quickly. Though Toro delivers a menacing performance, Stone’s character work is a bit patchy. Where Toro’s presence seems to encapsulate the alleged tone of Savages, Stone juggles too many other characters too often. Don’t get me wrong; the cast is great, which makes this film even more disappointing. Everyone from Selma Hayek to John Travolta manage to deliver a solid performance, but as a whole, the viewer is constantly asked ‘is this person really that important?’
Savages may be disappointing, but it is still an Oliver Stone film. And more importantly, this film seems to return Stone to all of his gritty, gruesome, macabre glory. Though Stone has had trouble delivering an acclaimed body of work lately, there are threads of his greatness throughout Savages.
Despite there being a few leaps in the right direction, Savages is ultimately a misstep. Fundamentally disappointing, this film will undoubtedly take a backseat amongst Stone’s filmography. Although better than previous efforts, the film is a shell of the director’s previous works. –Michael Ventimiglia
2 stars: Possibly an unintended sequel to the recession-driven Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Oliver Stone’s Savages takes on what could be his take surrounding the underground economy financial crisis instead this time around. And Stone’s just north when not south of the border bilingual left coast drug thriller, is steeped in a new and different fantasy laden spin on more typical down & dirty crime syndicate tabloid sensationalism.
All this, while more than begging the question, and then some: How would any ordinary person, for instance inhabiting the audience for this movie, go toe to toe with terrifying Mexican druglords, and somehow outrageously prevail. Not to mention in the midst of a wish fulfillment blockbuster action thriller, awkwardly shoehorned into free-spirit art house fare.
Maneuvering to keep the lid from totally popping off his brand of extreme storytelling, Stone shrewdly provides from the get-go what else, that useful, shifting the blame game voiceover gimmick known as the unreliable narrator. Which means that Blake Lively as combo Laguna Beach aimless upper crust pleasure princess and fickle Savages designated tour guide, gets to have her very own boy toy harem, max out her absentee rich mom’s credit cards at the local mall, and simultaneously take the hits for Stone regarding any ludicrous plot points.
Lively, as the chronically inebriated on controlled substances “O,” seems to have lucked into a strangely compatible lust triangle with a set of unusually high grade
California pot producer/distributor hunks. Counting crazed deployment-happy combat soldier and borderline psycho weed enterprise enforcer Chon (Taylor Kitsch), and college boy mad genius botanist Ben (Aaron Johnson).
Meanwhile, a daily regimen of sex, smokes and shopping continues relatively undisturbed in intoxicated unwedded bliss among this upscale threesome, save for occasional payoffs to an annoying DEA official (John Travolta). Until, at least according to Stone, the recession kicks in. At which point a vicious Mexican cartel headed by cartoonish dragon lady druglord widow Elena (Salma Hayek) crosses the border to stage a sort of multinational hostile takeover of the thriving gringo enterprise. And, as heads literally roll off assorted victims via hi-tech Internet decapitations, gleefully orchestrated by Elena’s ferocious head villain hit man Lado (Benicio Del Toro) – who favors consuming his dinner steak with a switchblade.
This intermittently tense cat and mouse, ruthlessly giddy caper among two sets of felonious haves and have mores, may be said to feature a sidebar crime as well. Namely, Stone’s seeming failure to ‘get’ women as characters. In this case, ranging from Lively’s airhead dumb blonde diva, to Hayek’s ditzy telanovella movietoon shrew. –Prairie Miller