Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Film Review: Savages

If there is one director working in Hollywood today who knows how to turn a good idea into a mess of a movie, it is Oliver Stone.  Yet, if there is one director working in Hollywood today who knows how to take a mess of a movie and turn it into something highly entertaining, it too is Oliver Stone.  And this is just what Savages, Stone's nineteenth directorial feature, is - one highly entertaining mess of a movie.  But what else would one expect from the man who gave us the unduly maligned creamy nastiness of both Natural Born Killers and Alexander?

Ostensibly, Stone's film is about a pair of California beach dudes - the opposites attract archetypes of hard-nosed war vet (Taylor Kitsch, last seen in the highly underrated camp sci-fi creature John Carter) and Buddhist love child (Aaron Johnson, who has played both John Lennon and Kick-Ass, as well as Vronsky in the upcoming Anna Karenina) - who just so happen to grow the best damn weed on the planet, and the Mexican drug cartel that wants to pull a hostile takeover (think the Wal-Mart of drug trafficking).  The film is full of colourful characters and we see a rapid-fire, whirling dervish of a drug war go down between low-lifes and dirt bags and crooked DEA agents, in that always incoherently haphazard Oliver Stone way, with quick cuts and tempo changes and spots of grainy black and white splish-sploshed throughout as if the director were high as a kite and dropped this and that here and there as if he were creating some sort of Jackson Pollack-esque drug doodle of a motion picture.  But then again, what else would one expect from good ole Ollie Stone?

But still, despite the film's glaring gaps of logic and overall sense of not really knowing where the next step will be taken, the film is quite entertaining.  Perhaps a film doesn't necessarily have to make sense (how naive does one need to be to think that saying fuck you to a drug cartel is not going to come back to bitchslap you in the face big time?), nor does it necessarily need to adhere to any sort of logical sensibility (even a suspension of disbelief cannot help to fathom some of the choices and outcomes sprinkled throughout here).  Perhaps a film can just be fun for fun's sake - even when that fun is the typically ultra-violent fun that comes with the best of the director's work (ie, the offensively-battered gratification that comes from the admittedly sick and twisted nuances of  Natural Born Killers).  Perhaps a film can leap around like a meth-addled howler monkey for over two hours, never making any more sense than  only to end on possibly one of the silliest endings this critic has seen in quite a long time (and a Scooby-Doo ending at that!) and still come off as pretty damn fun.

Then again, what a film like this needs is a few likable characters to root root root for, and Savages really has no one like that.  I suppose the closest the film comes to a likable character is Blake Lively's Ophelia (call me O, as I don't like being named after a suicidal Shakespearean character) who claims both our beach-loving pot dealers as the loves of her life.  But then Lively's ability as an actor - and Gossip Girl fluff aside, the actress has an ability that is as mesmerizing as it is surprising - surely helps this one-note character along.  Sure, her character, who happens to have some of the best lines of the film (when explaining the sex between her and Kitsch's Chon character, "I have orgasms.  He has wargasms."  - seriously, I did not make that up), may look to be nothing more than a spoiled slut of a girl - and by her own admission she pretty much says just that - but when compared to her beach blanket boy toys and the varied Mexican stereotypes of the cartel, she is the only character who has any real growth in the film.  Of course one can always get a good time out of Benicio del Toro's psychotic cartel killer and John Travolta's (being soooo John Travolta!) sleazy DEA agent, even if they are playing highly unlikable types. 

I suppose what I am trying to say here is that even though Savages is a mess of a movie (and even by Oliver Stone standards at that) and is certainly not going to be winning any awards for depth or development of story and/or character, not to mention sense of narrative logic (or perhaps even comprehension), it is still a highly entertaining, albeit gruesomely so at times (the film has more than its share of decapitations and torture-induced immolation, though it never even comes close to the cinematically charged giddy violations of NBK), work of Oliver Stone doing just what Oliver Stone does best - pissing off 99% of the movie-going public and shamefully titillating we other 1%.   See, I knew I was part of that 1% after all.


Dan O. said...

This flick should have been so much more violent, so much more aggressive, and just so much better than what it really was. Still, it's good to see Oliver Stone back doing some effed up stories that don't include just politics. Good review Kevyn.

Kevyn Knox said...

Yes it should have been. Many have claimed the film is too violent (I do not think so) but yes, it coulda shoulda been more violent and much more aggressive. Still quite fun though. Thanx.

Unknown said...

Okay, but what separates this movie from torture porn like Hostel? I'm thinking of the lengthy close-ups of the dangling eyeball, the chainsaw beheadings, etc.

That's some pretty graphic imagery, and it seems like when you bring out guns like that you better have something to back it up (substance). But, as you point out, the movie is more of a fun romp through a series of bad decisions and their consequences, with some Stone editing layered over the top. I mean, take away the violence, and the style, and what's left?


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blahblahblah Toby said...

This flick should have been so much more violent, so much more aggressive, and just so much better than what it really was. I second this. It could also have used faster pacing and failing that about 40 minutes trimmed from it.

Good review Kevyn even if i must have missed the style you were talking about and completely disagree about Blake Lively. I linked to you from own review today.