Savages – Review

Film: Savages (2012)

Starring: Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Salma Hayek, Benicio del Toro, John Travolta, Demian Bichir

Directed by: Oliver Stone

Produced by: Moritz Borman, Eric Copeloff

Written by: Shane Salerno, Don Winslow, Oliver Stone

Music by: Adam Peters

Running Time: 131 minutes

Rating: R

I wasn’t expecting much going into Savages, but in the midst of a long week I needed an escape into a cinematic world of something, so Savages it was.

This might be one of Oliver Stone’s better directorial efforts over the past few years, but that’s not saying a whole lot for one of Hollywood’s top directors of yesteryear. With Savages, Stone offers a hard-hitting drug story that is undone by some poor acting (though not by everyone) and a ridiculous ending that tries to be novel but ends up just being stupid.

In brief, Savages tells the story of two young guys (Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson) who grow highly potent marijuana after one of them — Chon (Kitsch) — smuggled seeds out of Afghanistan after serving as a soldier there. They share a girlfriend, Ophelia (Blake Lively) — she goes by “O”, which I suppose is an accurate representation of her character’s general cluelessness towards everything) — and everything seems to be harmonious. But we know it cannot stay that way, because otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie.

Chon and Ben soon come into contact with a Mexican cartel that offers them a partnership deal. The duo refuses, and — looking to flee from the wrath of the cartel — they ask O to go to Indonesia with them for a year. But the cartel kidnaps O before they can leave, and from there, much violence and savage behavior among everyone ensues.

The best aspects of this film where Stone’s pull-no-punches approach — most evident in his raw and unflinching portrayal of violence — and the acting of Salma Hayek as the ruthless cartel boss and Benicio del Toro as one of its members. John Travolta was also amusing — albeit slightly over-the-top —  in his role as a corrupt DEA agent whose loyalties are unclear throughout much of the film. However, all of these actors had supporting roles. The leads pretty much paled in comparison to this group, and that detracted from the film.

Taylor Kitsch is the big nothing of Hollywood this year. John Carter? Fail. Battleship? A decent box office hit, but not for quality acting or a quality picture (these are the types of films that generally make money these days). So, in my book, fail. And Savages? Meh. Kitsch plays a constantly pissed-off former soldier whose solution to everything is to kill the bastards and be as stereotypically bad-ass as possible. There was not really much going on with Kitsch’s character, and he failed to add any more subtle dimensions.

Aaron Johnson — the lesser-known name who nevertheless turned heads for his role in Kick-Ass — actually brought more to his character. We see Ben as someone who is very intelligent and good at what he does — growing and selling pot — but who slowly begins to realize that things are getting a little too big for him. Johnson effectively portrayed the mental struggle of a man who did not want to be doing what he was doing but was acting simply because he felt he had to.

Then there’s Blake Lively as O. First, the decision to have her narrate the film was a very bad one, in my opinion. We see her character as some shallow beach girl (comparably shallow to Lively’s acting ability) who doesn’t really see any issues in being with two weed growers/dealers at the same time. And we as the audience are expected to accept her words to us as if she’s so philosophically in tune with the world? Yeah, right. But hey, maybe the whole idea is that she is profoundly changed by the end of the film, right? Eh, no, I don’t think so.

I won’t say too much about the film’s ending (minor spoiler alert for this paragraph), but there were two things that really bothered me about it. First, the approach of “Hey, we’ve shown a fairly derivative drug movie so far, so let’s have a really cool and unique ending that  will blow people’s minds!” didn’t really achieve its goal. Instead of thinking, “Wow, that was awesome!” I thought, “Really? That’s what’s happening here?” The other thing that bothered me was that if all these characters are savages, then they really should all reap some harsh consequences — i.e., they should all die — in the film’s conclusion. I’m not a sadist, but I felt like that would have been the most appropriate conclusion to the story. But, alas, not everyone dies, and Savages thus takes the easy way out.

To be fair, I have not read the eponymous novel by Don Winslow, upon which the film was based. So I don’t know to what extent this absurd ending and the overall ideas presented in the film were taken from the source material or to what extent they were Hollywood-ized.  What I do know is that Savages, while never boring, fails in several key areas, thus giving us an overall mediocre film.

Tommy D’s Score:





2/4 Tommy Ds

About Tommy D

Clemson and UGA alum with a market research job in LA. And I kind of like movies.

Posted on August 4, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Good review Tommy. I had a good time with this flick but there also felt like something more should be coming of this material. For some reason. Stone just never lets this material get as crazy as it should, which is a real surprise because this is the guy who did Natural Born Killers for Christ’s sakes! He must be getting softer in his old age.

    • Thanks for the comment. I actually thought there were some pretty raw, intense scenes, but that the story was missing something. Oh, and Blake Lively can’t act.

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