Savages (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
15Nov/120

Savages (2012)

With every new Oliver Stone film I get the sensation that, had things gone a bit differently, he would have been much happier being a long-form documentarian like Ken Burns.  His last few films have been bogged down in endless detail and have succeeded mostly on the strength of the performances (W.) or languished in a sea of melodrama (World Trade Center.)  This tendency is in full display during Savages, where the first hour of the film is a detailed account of the ins and outs of two successful pot farmers.

The issue lies in the fact that I don't care if the two leads spend their days having sex and occasionally threatening people.  But for that first act Oliver Stone is determined to make sure you get every single second of their day into some scene.  The rougher farmer has sex with a blonde, then the peaceful one comes back and does the same, then they have a threesome, eat on the beach, drink, smoke, and finally sleep.

I don't have too many problems accepting they have a decadent lifestyle, but that much detail weighs the movie down.  The second act starts and the token blonde is in danger, and...endless conversations.  More food.  More sex.  The occasional beating to break up the mood.  This wasn't stirring material during the first act, throwing a different tree behind everyone isn't exactly going to change the quality of the final product.

The film at least starts off well with a gory threat delivered via demonic luchadore over the internet.

Savages has a satirical object in mind but keeps going back to the opulence it wants to criticize.  The pot farmers, Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson,) came back from the Afghanistan war with a bevy of high-quality seeds that flourished in California.  Right there are a number of surprisingly easy targets for someone like Oliver Stone.  The two are not necessarily ignorant of the way they profit from the war but sure are willing to peddle a decadent lifestyle over other's lives while claiming to be liberated.

It surprised me that Stone, who is at least even-handed if a bit histrionic in his criticisms, didn't do anything with this.  Instead they take turns with O (Blake Lively,) who signals her own meaninglessness in the opening scene where she talks about how it doesn't matter if she is dead.  The two share her and she exists solely to get into trouble and painful, cringe-inducing lines like "I have orgasms, he has wargasms."

Apparently that line exists in the novel upon which the film is based.  Still, I have to wonder if either the line itself or Lively's delivery raised any eyebrows about the quality of the rest of the dialogue.  It's not bad enough that we're caught in an endless loop of decadence, but no one has anything of intelligence or wit to add at any point.  By the time the cartel showed up and captured O I was almost pathetically grateful because it at least added some air of commentary into the mix.

Gettin' prepped for sexy fun times part four.

Selma Hayek is the film's only saint, with Benicio del Toro and John Travolta running a distant second.  She provides some woefully needed analysis two hours into the movie when she has a conversation with the battered O wondering if "Americans always talk like this" when O goes on about getting into crime as a means of "finding herself."  It's a sharp, if quickly gone, moment.  Del Toro and Travolta get on by hurling themselves into the film full steam, del Toro licking spit off of his own body and Travolta hamming it up to a wonderfully theatrical degree.

Those were just a smattering of quick moments in an all too long film.  Watching Savages repeatedly gorge itself on decadence in a Dutch angle, I started to wonder just why Oliver Stone still had that mythic structure in my mind.  He loves his camera trickery utilizing black and white, high constrast film stock, slow-motion, rapid montage (in one moment cramming the entire film in about four seconds,) and generally keeping things moving.  They're all just tricks though, not to any thematic purpose, and the result feels empty.

Stone may be the next subject of my directorial analysis because in Savages it's all too clear that this emperor of the cinematic hard left may have been naked for far longer than I suspected.

Savages (2012)
Directed by Oliver Stone.
Screenplay written by Don Winslow, Shane Salerno, and Stone.
Starring Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, and Blake Lively.

Posted by Andrew

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