Was Oliver stoned when he shot this?
From its very first seconds, Oliver Stone’s Savages advertises itself as a clever and ambitious piece of cinematography. Two hours later the credits wash over what looks like an expensive, unfocused mess. We are greeted by Lively’s honeyed voice promising to narrate the story exactly as it happened, and are then left to wonder she is in fact dead and narrating things from the hereafter. Nice twist, you think to yourself. The sad part is that the film is too oafish – and too busy toying with new combinations of torture, telecommunication and betrayal on a backdrop of Mexican drug dynasties – to deliver anything but the bare bones of a story.
Based on a 2010 novel by Don Winslow, Savages introduces us to the ‘good guys’ Ben and Chon (Taylor-Johnson, Nowhere Boy, and Kitch, John Carter) – though a normal person would likely consider them cynical and narcissistic low-lives. Ben is a pseudo-idealist and former botany student. Chon, his ‘business partner’, is an ex-Navy SEAL who passes his war traumas off as macho fearlessness. They share a mansion on Laguna Beach, California – and a hot girlfriend (Lively), apparently underlining the general theme of ethical darkness. This private slice of heaven is paid for by 15 million reportedly enthusiastic dope smokers worldwide. Ben and Chon, we learn, have developed the most splendiferous cannabis known to man.
When a Mexican drug cartel (seeing Hayek and a charismatic Del Toro in central roles) decides it wants a share of the high-end weed market, a game of violent negotiation, kidnapping and torture breaks out. There are exciting moments, and some will enjoy Travolta as a crooked DEA cop, but the dialogue is wooden and the villains stereotypical.
Primed for something epic, though, you spend the better part of two hours waiting patiently for some kind of redeeming surprise, like an inspired plot twist or something. Alas, it’s not to be. Savages looks consistently dazzling (except when intentionally sickening and morbid), but it has a heart of ‘Stone’ and ends bizarrely – with a heavy-handed Tarantino-esque flashback which, second time around, branches off into an alternative ending that is as unsatisfactory as the first.
Dir: Oliver Stone; US action, 2012, 133 mins; Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Blake Lively, John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, Emile Hirsch
Premiered October 11