You’d think a director such as Oliver Stone would have learned a thing or two about making films by now, especially after all of these years behind the camera. Savages, which has a gigantic cast full of young and old talent, plus a promising story that ventures into the dark and violent territory that Oliver Stone had no problem with filming Natural Born Killers, is a bust. Stone’s hyper-violent drug deal gone wrong film amounts to almost nothing, but gracefully skids by thanks to a few key performances. Savages is mostly a film that belongs in the 90s, next to some of Tony Scott‘s better films. Its recycled storyline borrows more than a few things from past films and while doing so adds in some cringe-worthy dialogue and amateur action sequences that rely mostly on style and less on skill.
Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) are two of America’s best and brightest in the drug distributing world. Together they make for the brains and bronze of the operation, eliminating most of the violence and uneasiness of dealing drugs. Chon served in Iraq, which means he’s the muscle and his peace-loving friend Ben is the college boy with a degree in selling the best product in the country.
They share a beautiful lady named O (Blake Lively), who acts as the glue in their relationship, bringing the three of them even closer. Things are perfect and running smooth as can be when their FBI insider Dennis (John Travolta) informs them of a Mexican cartel (Salma Hayek) that wants a big piece of their action.
She’s the type of lady that takes and doesn’t really negotiate, which doesn’t work out too well for Chon or Ben. If things don’t go according to her plan she sends in her trustful enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro) to basically kill everything breathing or standing in the way.
Oliver Stone‘s Savages is another sun-soaked drug drama that unfolds much like any film of the genre. Things go from great to bad in an instant and our main protagonists are left to pick up the pieces. Savages almost works right out of the gate, because Stone takes a page from Tony Scott‘s film book, ramping up the style and editing, but quickly it fizzles out and leaves you with a bunch of over-acted characters that never leave the paper and come to life on screen, and some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard, even for something like this, which can almost be described as over-the-top.
I’m not sure what Stone’s problem is as of late, but he really hasn’t made a good film in 10 or 15 years. Savages is his best work in a decade, but only because it doesn’t completely suck. It mostly sucks, but it is held together, if slightly, by two key performances: Aaron Johnson and Benicio Del Toro.
Aaron Johnson is most known for his work in Kick-Ass, in which he played the titular character. His performance in Savages is on a whole other level of good. Johnson shows his maturity as an actor and completely becomes the torn and confused Ben. His eyes tell the story of the film, starting out innocent and afraid and ending with an uncaged ferociousness that will at the very least surprise you.
Benicio Del Toro has been giving Oscar caliber performances his whole career, which makes his role in Savages feel like basic Del Toro, but when compared to the rest of the talentless cast he sticks out and in a good way. He seems to be the only one that knows what kind of film Stone is making, because he walks that fine line of becoming a complete psychopath and being one of those villains that you have no problem rooting for, even after he’s beheaded some lawyers innocent wife. It’s sick and sadistic, but so damn fun to watch! Del Toro gets that and rolls with it.
Taylor Kitsch regresses as an actor, crawling back to those grumbling lines that didn’t work in John Carter and trying to be funny and clever, which didn’t work in Battleship. I’m not sure what the guy’s problem is, but he lacks charisma in the film and it shows.
Blake Lively is far from lively, mostly coming off without a cause. There’s never any moment in the film where she makes you believe that she’s worth saving and that puts the film on crutches almost instantly.
Most of the dialogue in the film is laughably bad, with a few lines coming off as extra trashy. I’m not sure what the writers were thinking, but most of the lines feel forcibly read. The only real time the script clicked is when Del Toro and John Travolta briefly shared a scene, in which everything was delivered with an equal amount of comedy and over-the-top seriousness. It’s this kind of stuff that could have saved the film and made it a real joy to watch, but this only lasts for a few minutes and then the film resumes back to bullshit.
If in the hands of a young director I’d probably give Savages a pass, because it does have its shining moments. The film is graphic and violent and shares that stylistic approach that Tony Scott uses so often these days. The difference between Scott and Stone is that Scott at least knows he’s making passable popcorn flicks, whereas Stone thinks he’s making some sort of serious drama. Savages is far from serious and when it tries to be you’ll realize just how bad the film is.
It’s an amateur film and Oliver Stone is past the point of being able to get by on these mediocre attempts. I’ll say that it is better than most of the garbage he’s pumped out in the last decade, but only because he’s able to get two fairly strong performances out of Johnson and Del Toro. It’s kind of hard to mess up a film like this, but Stone somehow manages to nearly ruin the entire thing by picking up things from past action flicks and never trying to improve on them. Savages doesn’t really get bad until it loses its footing in the middle act and then delivers not one, but two shit endings that make little to no sense.
Savages – 6.5/10