REVIEW: Savages

1 08 2012

I’m not one to say that a movie HAS to be made a certain way or in a certain style. Having said that, movies about drug trafficking, drug cartels, and drug violence should really be done in a raw, gritty fashion.  That’s the standard, be it Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic” or television’s “Breaking Bad.”  The style and the content really work in perfect harmony.

And it’s a standard for a reason.  Oliver Stone, ever the belligerent iconoclast, feels no need for such formalities.  He’s begging for attention as usual in his latest feature effort “Savages,” a film that’s about two drug growers in a ménage à trois with a girl who winds up being used as a pawn against them, although it’s really just about Oliver Stone.  His insistence on making curious directorial choices often makes the film feel like a tasteless, hair-brained Tarantino flick.

His insistence on savagely graphic violence aestheticizes slaughterings, tortures, and killings to the point where it seems to serve only Stone’s eye.  One particular scene goes way too far; it’s a disgusting sight to behold and really doesn’t have much to say about the morality of violence.  Scorsese-esque, this is not.

And if the violence doesn’t make “Savages” unwatchable for you, then maybe the acting will.  Blake Lively, taking a page from the Kristen Stewart playbook, grunts, moans, and brays her way through a juicy role that could have been memorable in the hands of someone like Elizabeth Olsen or Rooney Mara.  Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch as leading men in a love triangle (that Stone presents with some homoerotic undertones) are passable, but Kitsch really should find a role where he can channel the emotional honesty he brought to Tim Riggins on television’s “Friday Night Lights.”

Stone also finds a way to turn Oscar nominees John Travolta and Salma Hayek and winner Benicio del Toro into caricatures, particularly Hayek, whose thick accent is played for comedy.  It’s a shame that “Savages” is hijacked by its director to flaunt the peculiarities of his own mind.  The story, a caper of duplicity and cannabis, is actually quite captivating.  But to Oliver Stone, it’s merely a canvas onto which he can make his “Bonnie & Clyde.”  In the hands of a director who respects the source material enough to subvert and subdue their own tendencies if they were not suited for the story, “Savages” could have easily been something very special.  C+

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5 responses

1 08 2012
ninvoid99

Does this mean should we start a petition for Oliver Stone to just simply retire as he hasn’t been making any good movies for some time?

1 08 2012
CMrok93

Something here was just missing from the story that would have given that final boost of energy it needed. Still, I had a good time with this story and most of the performances, especially Travolta who just loves playing these kinds of characters, and he totally nails it here. Nice review Marshall.

2 08 2012
rorydean

It’s funny, when I caught this I thought you were writing about ‘The Savages” with Hoffman, but once here, yeah your line “His insistence on savagely graphic violence aestheticizes slaughterings, tortures, and killings” is absolutely Stone, a manipulator of umpteenth degree, a man as much about the cardboard box as what he puts in the cardboard box, what color he paints it and which stencil he uses to paint the obligatory “enter here, check this out, it’s gritty realism. I personally fan Stone, I like almost everything he’s done with respect to his obvious blunders, which were good tempts but ultimately bad choices – Troy – for instance. So yeah, homoerotic undertones because Stone lives down there in the muck and brambles of real base human needs and desires – one of the things I think humanizes his films in ways lots of others can’t even figure out, like putting on that second leg of the trousers, how do people do it without sitting down (ahem, Tarrantino since like everything after Jackie Brown, maybe touches of From Dusk Til Dawn, like the beginning). Now I just have to go watch this film. Thanks for the insight. Cheers0>

2 08 2012
Marshall

Haha. Tamara Jenkins’ “The Savages” is the far superior movie, and I wished they had messed up the prints when I went to the theater.

I feel like I haven’t seen any good Oliver Stone movies, only his modern bombs. I think the only film of his I have seen from before 2000 is the original “Wall Street.

2 08 2012
Marshall

Also, by the way, the homoerotic undertones are not something I am morally opposed to or anything. I wasn’t disturbed by it nor do I feel the need to warn people about it, but it just seemed like a curious and distracting way for Stone to develop their relationship.

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