Monday, July 23, 2012

Savages (Oliver Stone, 2012)

I was somewhat interested in this film after the wife wanted to see it, but fortunately I had not seen a trailer nor read any reviews. All I knew was that Benicio del Toro and Salma Hayek were in it. That is all. When I discovered Oliver Stone was behind the wheel I was a little worried. Stone is one of those guys who earns my distrust purely for their "we changed the world" baby-boomer nostalgia. Also, I had just attempted to watch Natural Born Killers (1994) by Stone and was completely unimpressed with it. Still, Hayek and del Toro rarely disappoint. My trepidation was compounded when the name "John Travolta" appeared on the screen. Anyway, lets get into it, shall we?

This is a story based on the novel by Don Winslow of the same title, and is about two high school friends who become major marijuana producers. Once things start to get a little hairy, Chon (Taylor Kitsch, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, John Carter) decides to train-up in tactics and joins the army, doing rotations in Iraq and Afganistan; the later being the source of their miracle weed. Smarty-pants do-gooder Ben (Brit actor Aaron Johnson, Kick-Ass) is the botanist of the pair, and uses their predominantly ill-gotten fortune to fund social efforts in the Third World. Then, the Mexican Cartels start knocking at the door.

The Baja Cartel wants to take over their business, for numerous reasons. The pair does not want to sell out to them, but the cartel is insistent. Upon their refusal they decide to kidnap the team's shared love interest, O (Blake Lively, Gossip Girl) and use her as a bargaining chip. They succeed, and the remainder of the action involves the two trying to get her back.

If you are spoiler sensitive, you may drop out now, though there is little to spoil. This ain't The Sixth Sense.



Overall, the film is not a bad one. There is a lot of reliance on internet communications, which will certainly be dated before too long. The plot gets a touch wonky at times, with unfollowed plot threads though few plot holes. If you are an IT guy you may want to stop-up your ears at times when the IT jargon starts flying. It is either poorly written, or specifically obfuscated with buzz-words that the non-IT public will recognize without definition. Some of the bad guys are too trusting, and despite their proclaimed expert use of the internet in a secure fashion they do not flinch when O requests a laptop so she can email her mother with a cover story.

One thing I was concerned a bit about was the three-way love triangle. Not that I am against non-traditional groupings, but knowing Stone to be a preachy-type I thought it might get a bit heavy handed. It is still the driving force behind the action. There is very little investigation of why the three are together. O, who narrates, explains why she is in the relationship, but only cartel boss, Elena (Salma Hayek) questions their motives. Sadly, the question is left hanging. She indicates, in opaque terms, that O is a proxy for Chon and Ben's homosexual desires for each other; desires they dare not act upon. Then we forget about the "why" of the relationship and get to some more gunplay.

Kitsch, Lively, and Johnson

The film is fairly heavy on the action and military tactics. Chon has several former Navy S.E.A.L.s on the payroll who have learned how to use their former enemies' tactics against their new enemies. Cartel enforcer Lado (Benicio del Toro) is particularly vicious, and steals most scenes, though his Mexi-mullet wig and George Lopez impersonation can be a bit distracting. There are some extremely gorey scenes, but nothing I remember making me flinch too badly.

Ultimately, I think the major part of the narrative is left behind. We get early glimpses of the title's meaning, and the people from the involved cultures comment on the opposition being "savages" but it seemed highly unexplored. The love triangle, as the driving force, also leaves one wanting. Aside from a "we both love her" excuse we get no real indication of why. Really, O is just a bimbo. The only thing she seems to offer is a willingness to be in a three-way relationship. Personality-wise, she could be replaced by nearly any other chick on the beach who can be lured in by copious amounts of free weed and an expense account. The story of her as victim is only explored as victim of the kidnapping rather than her as victim of two men who can't fuck each other, so they both fuck her instead. Maybe the book is better at handling both issues, but it is a detriment to the film to leave them alone. Like him or not, you expect a story from an Oliver Stone film where this is just a slightly kinky shoot-em-up piece.

4 comments:

T. Roger Thomas said...

Somehow this movie was not on my radar previously.

Darius Whiteplume said...

Mine either. Not sure what made the wife want to see it, but she did. There are worse films, and I do think about this one more than some I enjoyed more... I'm not sure what to think now :-)

matthew dowd said...

Oliver Stone is CIA.

Darius Whiteplume said...

Entirely possible :-)

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