Savages is a film that opened to much fanfare, and with good reason. Think back to some of Oliver Stone’s best – Platoon, JFK, Natural Born Killers, and it’s understandable why big names fall over themselves to appear in his movies. Stamping the Stone name onto a film ultimately lends it credibility and cool. Unfortunately, his first feature since Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is uneven in places, despite its intriguing premise and crowd of heavyweights.
Chon, Ben and O (Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson and Blake Lively) are the prettiest trio of weedheads you ever did see. Life’s a beach, and somehow they have found a way to cultivate extremely potent marijuana. It’s a pity then that their adorable Laguna Beach love-in is interrupted by the arrival of a drug cartel, led by the ruthless Elena (Salma Hayek). Mexicans, you would be surprised to find out, aren’t known for their even tempers, and Ben and Chon’s refusal to cut them into their business results in the kidnapping of O. This sets off a chain reaction of murder, double-crossing and many scenes in four wheel drives, as the hapless potheads scramble to recover their sun-kissed beauty.
One of Savages’ main letdowns is Blake Lively. This was meant to be her breakout film, as far away from the girly frippery and travelling pants as she could get. However, it seems that the newly-minted Mrs. Reynolds is still a paid-up student at the Keanu Reeves School of Wooden Acting. While her role is of the pretty and ornamental Ophelia, any attempts to convince us that she can roll with the tough guys (a back of tattoos, her neglected rich kid backstory, a potty mouth) fall flat in the face of Lively’s bland brand of reaction-acting. She is beautiful, but little more. It’s hard to understand why Ben and Chon would sacrifice millions, weaponise and go to such lengths to save such a mealy-mouthed dullard.
Other supporting cast members aren’t as bad – Benicio del Toro is as wild as ever, and John Travolta straps one of Nicolas Cage’s cat wigs to his head to play the corrupt narcotics agent with a level of convincing smarm.
It seems that Savages is trying to do a lot with a little. It’s dark – heads roll, skin is flayed, but ultimately to little purpose. Savages’ biggest weakness is that it lapses into an orgy of violence and loses sight of the plot. The ending in particular is a little ridiculous, and 2 hours of action wraps up with a finale so formulaic that it must have been lifted from an episode of Law & Order or CSI.
Johnson and Kitsch are decent in their leading roles, yet Kitsch in particular plays his part of the ex-Navy SEAL turned weed botanist with a bored detachment, perhaps conscious that he will forevermore be pigeonholed as the next Channing Tatum or Sam Worthington: he’s undeniably gorgeous, but never really up to much, which is as clear here as it was in John Carter. Johnson is given a little more to work with as Ben, the happy hippy who’s trying to make the world a better place, one plant at a time, and rallies by the film’s end to show a bit of backbone along with the sensitivity.
Lively is, as mentioned, a liability – she should definitely get back to playing the wasted schoolgirl, where at least she doesn’t try to overstretch her repertoire of facial expressions from one to two.
Savages isn’t Stone at its best, and perhaps that is where the hyper-sensitive expectations come from. It might not be fair to expect the man who gave us the brash brilliance of Platoon or wrote Scarface to deliver such cinematic greatness every single time. Savages does not hold a candle to a lot of Stone’s early work, and makes one think that he is getting soft in his dotage – or that somewhere in the course of adapting Don Winslow’s novel, he indulged a little too heavily and had a few half-baked hallucinatory ideas that found their way into the script.
Savages is good but not great – it is a gripping two hours, but not a film that you should get serious about. Take it out for dinner, by all means, just don’t bother introducing it to your parents.
The verdict: 6/10
Savages is released in the UK this Friday, 21st of September. Check out the trailer below: