I love watching Oliver Stone movies, and I credit him as one of my favorite directors because of movies like Wall Street, Platoon, JFK, and Any Given Sunday. That said, he really hasn’t done anything exciting lately so I really wasn’t sure how this movie was going to turn out.
The premise is simple: two surfer best friends (Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson – whose name I recognized as the guy from Kick-Ass but didn’t actually recognize him onscreen till I saw the credits) have a lucrative marijuana trade, and a threesome relationship with a blonde ditz (Blake Lively). Their wondrous life goes apeshit crazy when a Mexican drug cartel run by Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro forces their way into their lives, and kidnaps the blonde to demand their obedience.
Now the first act is incredibly slow and dull, as it introduces the main characters and sets up the wonderful life they’ve created for themselves. But once you get past that, you get one rocking second act where Oliver Stone’s talents really start to shine again, with action set pieces, emotionally intense scenes, and some wonderful dialogues between the characters. Stone’s love for mixing different types of film stock is used sparingly here, and it looks good when it does happen.
And once again, did I mention that he can direct a really good action scene? It’s good to see the brutality that he once put into movies like Platoon and Any Given Sunday come back out to play.
Taylor Kitsch’s time to shine
First up, Taylor Kitsch is in fine form in this movie. Wifey and I have been nuts about this guy ever since we saw his Tim Riggins character in Friday Night Lights transform from a stereotypical dumb horny jock to reveal some really redeeming and heroic qualities underneath. Well, she was nuts about him the moment she saw his abs, but the character made her even more nuts about him.
Sadly, this potential wasn’t harnessed for the big screen for quite a few movies. His role as Gambit (my favorite X-character) in Wolverine was terrible! Battleship was just early Tim Riggins at sea, and while I haven’t seen it, John Carter tanked in a major way.
But in Savages, Kitsch is seriously able to show how well he can carry a movie. His character Chon starts out like as strong and silent ex-soldier with Post Traumatic Stress issues, which really isn’t that hard to do. It’s in the second act where he really comes alive, taking charge of the action and showing his true intensity.
Now originally I thought maybe it’s because he’s more alive when he’s got a gun in his hands and he’s motivated by action and violence. But on further thought, that’s not the real reason for his burst of intensity at all. He’s alive because he’s got a purpose, and that purpose is to keep his best friend alive and rescue the blonde. It’s not heroic macho bullshit either… this guy does it because he loves his friends.
Watching Kitsch finally show his potential is easily my favorite part of the movie, and I think you will really like his character too as you watch him take control of the situation and break out of that dumb soldier exterior.
A wonderful supporting veteran cast
There’s quite a huge ensemble cast in this movie, with a lot of young actors like Kitsch, Johnson, and the kid from Speed Racer, but there’s also a lot of veteran stars too like Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta and Salma Hayek. Del Toro and Travolta absolutely shine in this movie, with Del Toro’s terrifyingly psychotic portrayal of a drug enforcer and Travolta as a sleazy corrupt DEA agent. These two have been in the biz so long, and while it’s not surprising to see them do so well with their parts, it certainly is good to see them not just coast through a movie by defaulting to their usual characters. There’s one scene between the two of them that is just delightful to watch.
The big surprise though is Salma Hayek. She starts off the movie as just a mega queen-bitch who is brutally in charge of a drug cartel, but where you warm up to her are the brief moments where you see her human side, like the loneliness of being a drug-queen. She goes a bit overboard sometimes, but that’s just for a scene or two.
I don’t understand what they see in her
Unfortunately, while it is a refreshing return to form for Oliver Stone, he did hit a few bumps along the way which prevents this movie from going into the same list as Any Given Sunday and Platoon (can you tell how much I love these two movies yet?). The big roadblock for me is Blake Lively’s character. Now I’m sure she’s a fine actress and all, but I mostly see her in this movie as the same drugged-up whore from The Town, except with a different accent and a few more tattoos. But you know what? That’s okay because that’s just her character, and she plays it well.
What does bother me a lot is that I don’t understand why the two friends are so in love with her. This mutual three-way love is the very basis and foundation that drives the movie and everything that happens in it. You can see how much the two friends love each other in the way they get each other’s backs and the chemistry they share.
But what exactly is it that they see in Lively’s character? Cos I don’t see it. I just see a drug-dependant blonde girl who is completely comfortable with the idea of sleeping with two best friends who live together. Does she offer them more humanity, or love, or a sense of family? Not really. She’s just a moist orifice for the two guys to stick their dicks in when they’re not high-fiving each other and running a successful drug business together.
In fact, I would totally buy into the movie more if the two guys were gay and one of them was kidnapped by the cartel instead. I’d be okay if they weren’t gay, and one of them got kidnapped. Their chemistry and bromance is that strong.
The whole first act tries to set up their mutual friendship, and this is why it’s such a slow and draggy act because it doesn’t work. Her voice-over narration (something wholly unnecessary) starts the movie on a bad note, and things just go back to that bad note whenever she’s in a scene.
I have to admit that her interaction with the drug-queen later was pretty good, but you could replace her with one of the two friends and it would work just as well.
That weird bit at the end
Without spoiling anything, there’s also one WTF sequence at the end that will totally take you out of the thrill ride that the second act starts you on, and the movie does not regain its momentum. It’s not WTF as in a plot twist, but as in “why did they do that?” It’s a cheap, stupid sequence, and guess what? It’s due to Lively’s character again.
Maybe this was a result of sticking closely to the book, but honestly, that was one bit that Oliver Stone really should’ve taken out.
Despite my lengthy bitch-fest for the past few paragraphs, I really do think that this is a movie worth watching. It’s got a really good second act and the thrill continues all the way through the third act, until that aforementioned blip. There are a ton of good performances in there by a lot of really good actors, and they are really enjoyable to watch. Plus, the ladies get to see Taylor Kitsch’s bare ass.
Savages hits Singapore screens 20th September 2012.
And just because because, here’s a picture of Tim Riggins. Dude should never cut his hair hahaha!