Oliver Stone’s latest film Savages follows in the tradition of Scarface and Blow by using the drug industry as a metaphor for America’s aspirational culture. Unfortunately this film has neither the originality nor the charismatic central characters of those films.
Taylor kitsch and Aaron Johnson play two low profile but highly successful California marijuana dealers who live in an unusual threesome with bo-ho babe Blake Lively who seems to be their mutual girlfriend.
Having cultivated a uniquely potent brand of weed they attract the attention not only of local dope-heads but also a murderous Mexican drug cartel. When the two sanitized drug dealers unwisely knock back a business offer from the cartel they and Lively find themselves in a bloody war.
The big problem with this film is that the pretty white people with whom we’re supposed to sympathize aren’t very likeable. Kitsch’s character is an obnoxious, violent meathead with all the charisma of a cricket stump. Johnson is some sort of half-assed Buddhist who, we’re meant to believe, uses his drug profits to build schools in third world countries while Blake Lively plays a flaky, whiny trust fund kid.
Far more interesting are the supposed bad guys particularly Benicio Del Toro as a sinister and strangely coiffured cartel hit man, Lado and John Travolta as a sleazy Federal agent who tries to play both sides of the war. Selma Hayek, though, isn’t entirely convincing as the cartel’s supposedly sadistic leader.
Stone is nothing if not a gifted visual stylist and he makes excellent use of the California beach settings to create swooning, sun-drenched images. Fortunately, he manages to restrain himself from indulging in the weird hallucinogenic flourishes of his 90’s films like Nixon.
This film arrived with a lot of pre-release hype about its scenes of violence and while the killings are certainly frequent and brutal, they are much less shocking than we see in a lot of other films. Also, for an alleged action thriller, this film is strangely devoid of tension and excitement.
There’s also something oddly familiar about this film, early scenes feature a very Scorsese-like mix of first person narration over montages of drug production ala Ray Liotta in Goodfellas and much of the film has a Tarantino feel. If Stone had been able to capture the wit and energy of those two film makers this would have been a much better movie.
Nick’s rating: Three stars.
Classification: MA 15+
Director(s): Oliver Stone
Release date: 18th Oct 2012
Running time: 131 mins.
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