Review: SAVAGES - Yet Another Oliver Stone Film Best Left Unturned

Featured Critic; Toronto, Canada (@filmfest_ca)
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Review: SAVAGES - Yet Another Oliver Stone Film Best Left Unturned
There was a time, my young readers, when one would genuinely be excited about the latest film from one William Oliver Stone. Here was the guy that turned the Vietnam War film on its head, his action packed and poetic Platoon a touchstone of 80s cinema. His JFK and Doors films proved to be puzzling yet compelling movies to watch, and Natural Born Killers proved he could make his own mark with edgy (Tarantino scripted) material. Heck, even his penning of Scarface, as preposterous and boisterous as that film is, solidified his place in film history.

Of late, we've been treated to a downward trajectory of more and more maudlin and mediocre film. Savages, however, finds a new low for this auteur. It's a trashy, repulsive little flick, so darned unwatchable that it's not even fun to rip the thing apart.

We're introduced via voiceover (the most cloying since Harrison Ford tried to jeopardize Blade Runner) to a kind of twisted love triangle. Box office poison Taylor Kitch (hey, I liked the guy in John Carter and Battleship) plays Chon, a tattooed war veteran working out his anger issues by fucking our narrator. As she orgasms, he "wargasms", working out his pain and frustration through the act of boinking. Soon Ben returns home (played by Aaron Johnson, aka the guy from Kick-Ass), and he too gets to have his way with our narrator.

The key, then, is for our lead male characters to have a common lover so engaging, so charismatic that the audience immediately sides with her, falling in love just as our leads do. Instead, we've got a character played by Blake Lively. Seldom has a name so little befit an actress. As wooden as as a plank, with a nasty case of "dead eyes", her annoying, nasal delivery of each line of dialogue, along with a prudish sense of erotic expression makes for one of the more tragically repellant characters on screen in recent memory. Expected to share passions with our two leads, she has so little chemistry with either dude that one is left wondering if she's part robot. Frankly, I've not seen so little engagement from an acting standpoint since a toe-fingered Fox was forced to copulate in uncomfortable ways with a dipped-in-acid looking Rourke in Passion Play.

Describing the plot in any meaningful detail would be foolhardy. Suffice it to say this is drawing on neo-noir elements to craft some kind of heisty/gangster narrative. There are Mexican gangs, DEA agents, specialist killers in masks and other dreary tropes. Stone makes the proceedings even more unbearable by churning out his usual visual flourishes, mixing black and white shots with grainy colour sections, changing grain structure and film stock to appear "edgy".

A pudgy John Travolta and a mustache twirling Benicio Del Toro do their best to elevate this into something it's not (namely: enjoyable) but the story falls so flat it reminds once again of that plank that I used metaphorically a couple paragraphs back.

With a running time of just over two hours, you'll rarely find a film that feels an interminable. The multiple endings don't help matters, especially when the extremely tired device of "rewind and try again" (complete with the sounds of tape cuing!) is used to get out of a downer pickle of a conundrum. Honestly, why not just have the sound of a record scratching while everyone freezes and stares at the camera, it couldn't be more cliché. One can't help think that in the source material the more dire conclusion may have been the actual outcome - as it stands, ending in a kind of paradise hardly seems like the sacrifice it's made out to be.

While I admit never really adoring Salma Hayek in any of her other films, she's particularly annoying this time 'round, never sticking with the fundamental core of her character's motivation. While this is almost entirely the fault of the misguided plot, her turn from near empress to sniveling, fearful, I-broke-my-heel-while-running style female character was particularly repulsive.

In the end, the entire film collapses because almost entirely because of the truly egregious casting of Lively. As an audience we kind of want her to shut up from the get go, so the growing annoyance she generates for the viewer, coupled with overt, awkward attempts to generate sympathy, become the anchor that weighs down the entire shebang.  Particularly troubling is a rape subplot - shown on camera phone, it's chaste presentation and lack of visual impact makes it even more gratuitous, yet is made all the more ridiculous when it is quickly forgotten in favour of yet another standoff.

This is a film full of a bunch of rich, whiny, druggy idiots getting into trouble of their own doing. Not for a millisecond do we care about a single character, their motivations, or their eventual outcome.

Savages is so anti-audience that it proves to be a study in ignorant filmmaking, a sign of a director so callous to his audience, so oblivious to the craft that made his earlier works so enjoyable, that it stops being aggravating and instead devolves into pity for the lost vision.

Irredeemable, it's possible we've now seen the very nadir of this Summer's action offerings. While the worst may be yet to come in this long cinema season, it's hard to even envision a film more awkward, more poorly made while at the same time ignorant ofits obvious flaws than Savages.
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More about Savages

PeriklisJuly 5, 2012 12:44 PM

Sounds a lot like '97's "U Turn"...

JoseJuly 5, 2012 3:41 PM

Worst ending for a film of this magnitude. SPOILER! Seriously Stone? A rewind ending? You have got to be kidding me!

The whole audience started laughing and some actually looked angry. It was pretty nuts.

SaltonerJuly 6, 2012 12:02 PM

This is why I love reviews, because in the end they mean nothing.

Kurt HalfyardJuly 9, 2012 11:08 PM

Heh. I loved this film. It's delightfully cynical jazz. Actually this will probably turn out to be one of my favourite films of the year... Oliver Stone riffing on Tony Scott and beating him at his own game. The film is effortlessly trashy, as far as I'm concerned, it's this years THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, and I seriously love that film too.