film review: Savages (2012)

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film review: Savages (2012)


  • Savages

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I don’t know what Oliver Stone was thinking when he made Savages. I’m not sure he knows himself. Perhaps it was the same thing he was thinking during Alexander.

savages 2012 poster, oliver stoneI had a look at the novel before starting this review, I’m somewhat glad to see that the tone is from the book, it wasn’t conjured out of nowhere. That said, the tone is the least of Savages problems, it’s a colourful, lurid, brash film. It fits with the Laguna Beach setting and with the basic premise. Briefly, Ben and Chon, a couple of drug dealers find themselves going up against a Mexican cartel when the cartel kidnaps their mutual girlfriend, O.

The bigger problems are that the dialogue may as well be written in crayon, the characters are painted with ridiculously wide brush strokes and I think, but I’m not sure, that someone was hitting me over the head with an inflatable hammer. I’m just not quite sure what they were trying to get my attention for.

The script is laughable. Just laughable. In my brief perusal of the novel I noted that some of the uglier vernacular does harken back to the text but the way it’s been adapted is cack-handed to say the least. I can’t be sure that speaking style of Savages works in the novel but translating it into a narration for a film is a unmitigated disaster. This is the focal point of my ire.

I don’t know about you but when it comes to narration in a film, I’ll always lean toward the “show, don’t tell” idea. I’m not saying it can’t work, but more often than not we’re better off when the characters show us who they are, rather than having some doped up So-Cal sex toy tell us – that’s the mutual girlfriend you might have seen in the trailer. During the course of the film I grew to hate the sight of Blake Lively. I started to sigh openly when her blond locks appeared. I’d cringe when I heard her voice…

… It seems a curious choice to have your film narrated by a bubble gum moron. I’d love to know what Stone was thinking.

Because of this constant narration, we’re never really given the chance to get to know the characters. Not that there’s much to know but I do think maybe hearing words from their lips a bit more often would have helped. Oh wait, maybe not given the quality of the words here… “wargasm”, “baddist”, really?

I have no idea what this film was trying to say. I presume we’re supposed to be rooting for our American friends, since they’re only dealing weed after all, and besides, they want to give it all up to save the world dontcherknow. Thing is, why do I care if these hippies lose their girlfriend? Is it because otherwise the Mexicans will have won? Is that really what I’m taking away here…? Is this a Drugs Iz Bad, Mmmkay film? Or are we soley focused on the whole Everyone Is A Savage thing? Is that it?


It doesn’t help that the leads, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Taylor Kitsch, apparently inhabit a charisma vacuum. I’m choosing to be kind by saying that perhaps the script just didn’t give them a chance. As far as I can tell, Ben is smart and Chon is angry. This is the sum total of what the film feels we need to know about them. So, perhaps they did draw the short straws… but they’re also stacked up against Salma Hayak, Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta. Sure, they might be playing cartoons, right down to Del Toro’s moustache stroking, but all three of them have a bit of presence, something that Taylor-Johnson and Kitsch just can’t muster.

That said, there are some interesting ideas on show. There’s a couple of scenes with Hayak and Lively (Blondie) that hint at a more significant theme. Travolta’s DEA element could have got some good play… Del Toro was kinda fun… The action scenes were a little interesting… but instead they choose to build the film around Ben and Chon. Ben and Chon. Even their names bore me.

I’d like to think that somewhere in Savages was a taut, simple 90 minute thriller. Snip, snip, snip. Or maybe we could have had a character exploration. It’s not a complicated story so there’s room to manoeuvre. They could have looked at the rather unconventional central romance, or even O’s Mommy and Daddy issues but instead they go for… nope, I still don’t know what they were going for.

All the flashy direction, spurting blood and glossed up sex and drugs can’t make up for the fact that this film is a complete mess from start to finish. It’s a crying shame to see what’s become of three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone. Savages is baggy, unfocused, schizophrenic and dull, all in one 131 minute bundle.



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