Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Directed by Oliver Stone.
2012. Rated R, 142 minutes.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Diego Cataño
Joaquín Cosio
Sandra Echeverría

Every successful operation, especially those of a criminal nature, needs both brains and brawn. Ben (Taylor-Johnson) provides the former while Chon (Kitsch) handles the latter. Together, these two grow and distribute some of the world’s best weed from their house on Laguna Beach. They also share a girlfriend. Her name is Ophelia, but she goes by O (Lively). She’ll explain the whole sharing bit if you decide to watch. The point is, the boys are so successful they've attracted the attention of a Mexican cartel run by the brains of Elena (Hayek) and lots of brawn, mostly provided by Lado (del Toro). They want to partner with our heroes who don’t exactly cooperate. Of course, this means Elena and crew respond by putting their damsel in distress and kidnapping O. Oliver Stone ensues.

If you can’t already tell, Savages sets a frenetic pace from the get-go relenting occasionally to let people yell at each other. This comes complete with lots of quick cuts and a blaring soundtrack. To Mr. Stone’s credit, he uses them to great effect. They aid his story-telling in a way that’s not quite as intrusive when used in lots of other movies. There is also some pretty vivid violence which is what people watching this movie have come for.

There are two things that detract from Savages in a major way. First is how the leads are handled. Second is letting one of them, O, narrate. She makes a tremendous effort to be profound but comes off as a babbling pot-head trying to justify what we've seen or will see. This makes perfect sense seeing how that’s what she is, but this is annoying to the viewer who is not necessarily under theinfluence. Her preposterous first line sums up what I mean. She opens the movie with “Just because I’m telling you this story doesn't mean I’m alive at the end of it.” Trust me, when I heard this I couldn't possibly roll my eyes any harder.

As far as the two leads they just don’t quite work. We meet Chon first. He’s an ex-Navy SEAL. We’re fed some malarkey about how his time in Iraq has scarred him but it really means nothing other than his solution to any problem is shooting people and he has a bunch of other former SEALs available to do his bidding whenever he needs them. He stands around with a stern look on his face and disappears from the movie for stretches at a time.

The bigger problem is Ben. The first thing we notice is he has the wrong name. With his white faux-Rastafarian look, smoking habits and “We Are the World” exploits he should have the more hipster name, Chon. That the guys’ names are misplaced is too clever by half. The important thing to note is that they are opposites. O explains this in the first few minutes after we meet Ben, and the movie as a whole makes the point repeatedly. His peace-loving ways are supposed to inspire empathy. However, it has the reverse effect. I spent most of the film wanting to punch him in face only to settle for yelling at the screen for him to “man up and grow a pair”, calling him a dirty word that begins with ‘p’ for emphasis. The script going overboard to make us understand he’s a sensitive guy is partly to blame. Also at fault is the performance of Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Half the time he sounds like he’s reading his lines and the other half he’s whining. As a result he has little presence, if any. Whoever he shares the screen with blows the poor guy away. This is a major issue considering we focus on his character more than any other. 

Don’t go blaming the supporting cast for Taylor-Johnson’s lack of pizzazz. They actually redeem the film. John Travolta is great as the corrupt FBI agent in cahoots with our boys. He seems to be having big fun with the role and lights up the screen whenever he’s on it which isn’t all that often. Perhaps better than he, certainly with more screen time, is Salma Hayek. She dominates her scenes aptly conveying not only an evil villain but a compassionate mother. For my money, it’s among her best portrayals of her English speaking roles. Better than them both is Benicio del Toro. A bad wig (I’m assuming it’s a wig), 70s porn-stache, a too cool approach and oozing confidence all help him make Lado a menacing figure. He’s the kind of guy that unnerves less by the heinous acts he commits than the manner he goes about them. If the others help the movie, he makes it.

Alas, no matter how good the supporting players are we have to focus on the main characters and their story. This is where things fall apart. As avant-garde as it wants you to think it is, it comes off as a bit goofy and a lot sloppy. It’s also a bit disappointing it doesn't seem to want to be anything other than an ultra-violent shoot ‘em up, given the director. That’s probably a “me” problem. Since I knew going in it was an Oliver Stone flick I was looking for some political and/or social statement that I didn't find. Enlighten me if I've missed it. That said, I didn't find Savages to be a terrible film like most seem to have. I found it fun, but very uneven.

MY SCORE: 6/10

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