Matt’s Review: ‘Savages’ is Uneven, Mildly Brutal, Boring and InconsistentBy
Going into this film I didn’t really have very high expectations. I’m not a huge Oliver Stone guy, but the story that played out in the trailers was interesting enough to get me into a theater seat. Savages started with decent promise intriguing with Mexican Cartel violence and showing off the three main characters and their unique ‘taboo’ relationship. While I’m not one to say movies shouldn’t be fantasized, Savages is so sensualiszed and sexualized at times it seemed more like Oliver Stone’s wet dream than a story worth telling. In fact, I’m not sure this story is worth a 2+ hour movie, because almost everything you need to know about this film unfolds in the two minute long trailer.
Savages stars Blake Lively as O (short for Ophelia) who blandly narrates this film throughout. She is in love with two best friends that grow and sell some of the best pot on the planet. Yes, they are a polygamous, shown early by Lively engaging in some mildly graphic sex scenes with both men. Her voice-over helps explain their relationship so it ‘makes sense’ to the mostly monogamous audiences. But Lively’s voice-over cements the atrocious dialogue that pops up in this film — she says things like “I have orgasms, he has wargasms,” while she has sex with Chon who is an Iraqi war vet.
Because these guys have some of the best weed around, one of the Mexican Cartels comes a callin’ asking for a partnership — even though we know these drug lords have no intent on making this a mutual partnership. They are lead by Salma Hayek (scoff) who regretfully takes over the business when her husband dies. While many of the characters in the film discuss how Hayek is unfit for this drug kingpin role, but pointing that out probably isn’t a good thing to tell the audience. If Savages was to be taken seriously, the film could have used a more imposing figure to lead this all-powerful and hyper-violent cartel.
The action was a little too hectic throughout the film to even follow what was going on or who was who — it was kind of like Michael Bay shooting a Transformers movie where a lot of the times you can just hear and see close-ups of metal clashing without any knowledge of which robots are winning. But in fairness, there were a few good action pieces, one that stuck out in my mind was a heist scene that was wonderfully shot and edited.
The relationship between the two best friends Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) was definitely the best part of the movie — I also have to say I was shocked when I remembered Ben was played by Johnson, who looked so much younger just two years ago in Kick-Ass. While the pair shares a woman in Lively, they are very different — Chon speaks with his defensive and violent mind, while Ben is educated, refined, and believes in humanity. This contrast works for some decent drama between the two and helps forge a stronger bond.
The biggest downfall of Savages is its failure to understand classic storytelling 101 — you can’t just tell the audience everything (that’s boring), you have to show us. Don’t just read us a story, that’s what books are for. And between Lively narrating the film, to the characters just standing around scene to scene just talking and talking (notice all the pictures featured in this piece, it’s just people talking), the film felt like it was moving at a snail’s pace leading to fits of boredom.
You would think that would be impossible given the content of this film, drug cartels, love triangles, many a beheading, kidnapping, and many talented actors carrying it all out. But even considering that, I was bored watching this film, bored watching these characters talking about everything. It felt like more of a chore to keep up — I wasn’t able to watch the story unravel, I had to sit and listen to it unravel.
Like I said above with all the characters simply talking, Savages rarely gave the strong cast any chances to be great as they all just talk to one another. Benicio Del Toro had some good moments, but aside from him no other performances were really memorable. Kitsch did decent work in his tough guy role, but he wasn’t really required to show off a range of skills — he just had to look pissed a lot. Supporting characters like John Travolta and Emile Hirsch seemed like a waste. They both played important parts in the film, but they should have represented more than what they were given in Savages.
Savages also had inconsistent tone. The audience I saw the movie with couldn’t ever seem to agree whether certain parts were supposed to be horrific or almost parody-like. While this audience could have been stupid, I too was unsure how I was supposed to react at certain junctions. Maybe Stone should have just ‘told’ us like he ‘told’ us the whole story.
Lastly and most disappointing about his film was the ending. I won’t go into any details, but the easiest way to explain it spoiler-free is by calling the ending a ‘cop-out’ of epic proportions. The last eight minutes of the movie ruined any real appreciation I had for the very slow and poorly told narrative.
Overall, Savages is the classic example of a film that just has characters talking at one another, boring the audience to death. The film has mild violence and some sexuality acting as a thin veneer to hide the hollow center underneath. Many would argue (me included) that this is Oliver Stone’s third bad movie in recent memory (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps & Alexander). It felt as if Savages didn’t know what it was trying to really say.
What Should You Do? It’s not worth theater dollars, skip it.