Movie Review: “Savages”-This Savage Needs More Teeth

Written by Spencer Sterritt July 09, 2012

It seems Oliver Stone has finally gotten an itch in his trigger finger, after such dour films as “Wall Street Two” and “South of the Border.” With popping colours and whiz bang effect after whiz bang effect, “Savages” has a delightfully anarchistic spring in its step, about half the time. The other half though, stays rigid, curbed by holdover tendencies from Stone’s more somber and slow affairs.

The Natural Born Killer and the Buddha Dance Kid

The promise of shootouts and audacious violence stems from two pot manufacturers, Sean (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson, who looks pretty damn fantastic all scruffed up). They make a living making the best pot in the world, due to some fancy-schmanzy science. Ben tours the world as a humanitarian, while Sean stays back beating people up. They’ve got a great life, both of them in love with O (Blake Lively), which is weird but the film makes it work.

But then the cartel moves in, and as the trailer promises, things go wrong.

Of all the things that go wrong, both inside and outside of the narrative, the thing the movie constantly gets right is the ideological clash between Sean and Ben. They love each other (as bros, which is as far as this film goes), but they come from very different backgrounds, with Sean being a former solider and Ben being a Buddhist. Aaron Johnson takes on a lot of the film’s weight as he accurately and compassionately performs as a man torn between his peaceful nature and how much he wants to hurt those he hates. There are a lot of pretty good performances in “Savages” but Aaron Johnson definitely takes the cake.

Blake Lively and Taylor Kitsch both put in solid performances as the other 2/3’s of the love triangle, but Stone doesn’t give them nearly enough stuff to do to make their performances worth while. In a rather terrible opening narration the audience is practically assaulted with character beats for the core three, but it comes on so strong and quick that none of it takes hold. By the films end I wasn’t invested at all, and during the emotional scenes all I did was critique the film. It lacks the punch that made me really get into it.

A Stone At The Wheel

For a film that is supposed to be a wild return to form for Oliver Stone, a lot of it drags, and over extends its stay by about fifteen minutes. To make up for lack of character depth everyone gets a lot to do that is ultimately pointless, especially Salma Hayek as the cartel villainess, and John Travolta as the dirty DEA agent. Their respective family members are constantly brought up but in the end mean very little, with only Salma Hayek’s estranged daughter having any real impact (and even then only as a plot device).

Oliver Stone is certainly a smart director, and with a better movie taking this approach to character would have paid off handsomely, but dammit this is a film that needs to explode, not go pop pop. When the film does hone in on cartel violence it grows teeth, becoming the savage that is promised in the title. A torture and death by roadside flare scene stands out in particular, and even though the final shoot out has loads of problems, it’s still directed with a healthy bit of verve.

“It’s That Kind of Story”

Where the film should strut it tiptoes, trying to be a serious drama instead of either the violent anarchistic show or the pointed satire of greed and the SoCal lifestyle it should be. It falls in line with most of the other films this summer that are recommended, but only on a Tuesday, or if you’ve got an itch to see Benico Del Toro in some gawd awful hair. Anyone else looking for Oliver Stone’s return to greatness should just keep waiting.

My Rating: 7/10

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About Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt: former Editor-In-Chief for We Eat Films, future President of the Men With Beards Club, and hopefully candidate for ruler of the world.

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