Movie Review: Savages

Stars: Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Salma Hayek, Benecio Del Toro, and John Travolta

Rated R for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout, 127 Minutes, Crime/Drama/Thriller

Compare to: True Romance (1993), Street Kings (2008)

Oh, Savages. What a simple-minded, egotistical, violent tirade you are. When it comes to Oliver Stone these days, it’s just tough to have an open mind. The writer/director seems to be interested in very few new ideas and seems completely content in socio-political commentary and/or meaningless violence with the thinly layered pretense of a purpose.

I can see Savages going down as one of those movies that gains a cult fan base through people who want to live the lives of the characters but not actually understanding the types of consequences the characters’ actions would actually have. That’s in part because I’m not sure if Stone understands the types of actions they would have. Much like 2003’s Blow, Savages treats the subject matter at hand as something damning, while simultaneously making you think of the characters as admirable for going to the depths that they do. They all just seemed retarded to me.

Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) are two friends whose business has flourished. Growing and selling the best weed known to man has made life easy for them and their mutual girlfriend, O (Blake Lively). It’s too bad the bigger, badder cartel wants in on the quality of their product. Refusing to simply work for Mexican gangsters, the leader of the cartel, Elena (Salma Hayek), orders the kidnapping of O in demand for the guys’ employment. Things don’t go as planned though as Chon and Ben are not ones to be pushed around and Elena’s right hand man Lado (Benecio Del Toro) prefers to do things his own perverse ways.

As mentioned above, this movie is simplistic, full of itself, and single-minded, which also describes the characters perfectly. Every one of them seems to be one note with only goal, usually pertaining to cutting somebody, beating, stabbing, stealing, blackmailing, blah blah blah. The only two that seem to be playing to their roles as best as they can be played and having fun in the process are Hayek and Del Toro, but mostly Del Toro. He’s the only one that seems to understand his only way of thinking is something to be used and embraced, rather than pretend he’s got more going on upstairs than he does like the rest of the cast (his best line probably being, “F— you, YOU think.”). Yet even then, there’s only so much to enjoy about a character that’s reason for being is killing, getting the money, and killing some more. Let’s not forget raping.

To attack or even insult a filmmaker personally shouldn’t enter into a critics’ mind when reviewing a film, but in Stone’s case, it’s tough to differentiate his personal life and storytelling ideas. His views and thoughts are so intricately woven into whatever film he’s a part of, to not mention him is like eating a hamburger without the bun.

It seems tone is something of a dinosaur; having found his niche in satirizing the appraisal of violence his films yet he reverts to just praising it, pretending to have deeper motivations. These days we get more of the same from him, and as much credit as he can take for contributions to film, he’s not been kind to us the past few years, specifically thinking of Alexander (2004) and 2010’s Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps.

We’re also forced to deal with the three way relationship of Ben and Chon’s connection to O, Lively’s character. I can’t tell if we’re just supposed to be getting to know them in the first hour, or if Stone is trying to get us used to the idea of an open relationship. The past couple year’s comedies like No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits did entire films about something similar and it just feels boring past bringing it up occasionally. In Savages, we need to see Lively having sex with the two guys, as well as persistently give us scenes of the trio together. Do you get it? They’re all together! Can’t handle it, can you?? Nah, you just don’t get it!

And then there our are leads. Apparently Stone chose Kitsch after watching thirty minutes of Battleship before he was chosen for the role of toughguy Chon. He watched Battleship. There’s nothing too terrible to say about him here past the point of his character supposedly running on instinct but just coming across as a brazen idiot. If his character had to find a way to get past a brick wall, the character’s choice would probably be to try and punch through it. Aaron Johnson’s role of Ben seems to be “talk to it and ask it nicely.” Lively’s character narrates that they’re two halves to make a whole person for her and the same could be said of character. One hurts people while the other talks. There’s really nothing more to say about either character. I can’t even tell if you’re supposed to like them, although I can’t imagine any budding UFC fighter not appreciating Kitsch’s character. You’re not doing what I want you to do, so here comes my KNIFE!

Shaky camera, in-your-face, does-this-shock-you antics, and a script that’s predictable enough to make me feel like I wrote it myself, Savages is definitely skippable, although I have a feeling young couples who want to see Kitsch or Lively might be checking it out anyway, while an older generation of Platoon fans will want to see what Stone has up his sleeve these days. It ain’t much, lemme tell ya.

Grade: D+


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