[Review] – Savages

26 Jul

Title: Savages
Year: 2012
Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Shane Salerno, Don Winslow and Oliver Stone, based on the novel by Mr. Winslow
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, John Travolta, Benicio del Toro, Salma Hayek, Demián Bichir, Emile Hirsch
MPAA Rating: R, strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout
Runtime: 131 min
IMDb Rating: 6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Metacritic: 61

And so Savages is finally upon us. To be honest, I have, for some reason or another, actually been very interested in seeing this film since it was first announced. At first it was for the very shallow reason that it was premiering on September 28, which is my birthday. But then it moved up to be a summer release, (which still left my birthday with Looper, one of my most anticipated releases of the year, as well as Trouble with the Curve, so I’m good), but I was still really interested in how Oliver Stone tackled the Don Winslow novel, and the cast intrigued me. Plus apparently Blake Lively, who wasn’t experienced at the gun range before she took classes for this movie, hit center mass in her first three shots. That’s totally meaningless, but I always remember that fact for some reason.

Anyways, now I have finally seen the movie, and even though it’s not a great one, and at times it’s just totally uneven, I was actually really happy to see Oliver Stone tackling some dark material in a way that’s so very his, with the bright colors and the intensity, in a way that we haven’t seen from him in close to two decades, pretty much since Natural Born Killers.

That made me appreciate the story of Chon and Ben so much more, two best friends, the former an ex-SEAL and the latter a peace-loving Buddhist, who run a super successful home-grown marihuana operation in Laguna Beach that’s making them a ton of money. They also share a girlfriend, O, with whom they share a very unique kind of love. Everything’s terrific, the world is their oyster and all that stuff, until a real, big, down-to-business Mexican cartel comes into town and demands that the duo joins them. They decline, but then the cartel kidnaps Ophelia and, as they say, shit gets real, with Chon and Ben deciding to wage war on the cartel.

This is one of those movies in which there are two sides and you have to root for one because that’s what the movie tells you, but in reality the two sides are people who do “bad” things, and yet they are also people who have some good to them in one way or another, too. So, you know, there’s some kind of exploration of morality involved in all of this. Like I said though, the best part about this film is having Oliver Stone back to his old days in which the guy wasn’t as concerned about giving us his point of view on some political or social matter but rather was just all about giving us a wildly entertaining, often-violent romp of a movie. Savages, for all its faults, is just that, and it’s a return that I was really happy to get.

Because Savages is indeed flawed. The film, even though it’s obviously marred in very modern times and themes, still carries off Mr. Stone’s penchant for that kind of love for the social revolution that took place in America during the early-seventies or so. And I liked that. You could pass this film is a pretty much nonsense, as something kind of racist, a little bit sadistic, but the fact is that this is Oliver Stone just going effin ballistic on us, giving us a film that, while not entirely campy, still delivers some of those camp pleasures, and I actually had quite a bit of fun watching it.

The film, by the way, is just super frantic in the way its cut by the trio of editors Mr. Stone employed (of which one, Joe Hutchinson, won two Oscars working with him on Born on the Fourth of July and JFK). Several scenes are done in a wide array of ways as far as how they’re shot, varying in tone and style under Dan Mindel‘s cinematography, and it can get to the point in which you may just get a little bit lost in all the frenzy, which is why many times it actually helps having narration provided by O (her real name is Ophelia), a narration that starts off the movie by telling us that even though she’s narrating this story, it doesn’t mean she’s alive by the end of it.

Yet, even though there is indeed all of this crazy stuff going on here, all these strands of plot in which you may get a tiny bit lost in, at the end of the day they actually don’t matter all that much. I don’t know how this film is structured, I don’t know if there’s a social commentary Mr. Stone’s trying to make, I don’t know a lot of things. And yet I liked this experience, I liked it even though John Travolta gives a frustratingly loud performance as this two-timing dirty DEA agent who’s supposedly helping Ben and Chon, I liked it even though I don’t really know what to make of it. And I’m sticking by that gut feeling; I liked Savages.

So, yeah, I guess, after all this rambling, that’s my concluding point: I liked Savages. I loved how even though we’re getting a story that in a way is stuff we’ve seen before, and we’re getting characters that are so stereotypical, it seems kind of new. And that’s because of Oliver Stone, who, in his full-throttle handling of familiar stuff, manages to give us something that’s unique, obviously helped by the fact that he has a slew of talented performers to help him along. I don’t know what he’ll do for his next project, but I hope it doesn’t take him another two decades to go all crazy on us again; once in a while, that’s just exactly what we need.

Grade: B


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