Pot dealers Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) take on the might of a Mexican cartel, but don’t take into account that their shared girlfriend O (Blake Lively) could be the element in their lives that leads them into war.
It is hard to remember the last truly great movie that Oliver Stone made. Sure, we have had Alexander the Great (or Alexander the Bleedin’ Deadly as it is known in Dublin… Mostly due to the casting of Colin Farrell), W. and Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps in the last few years, but how many of those actually lived up to their promise? Sadly, Savages seems to fall into the same category.
Based on a 2010 novel by Don Winslow, the story focuses on Chon and Ben, their pot dealing ways and the relationship they have with their shared girlfriend, O. While the shared girlfriend story may seem like a nice idea – both men fulfil different needs in O, apparently – after a while, this begins to feel like hedonism for the sake of hedonism. It is difficult for the audience to see the appeal of O, yes she is pretty and tattooed, but she also seems to be vapid and a drug addict. The drug story is one that we are achingly familiar with, and pretty much every eventuality of this story has been covered in other media. If the dialogue was interesting, maybe this would be excusable, but sadly the script seems to have been written in the most simplistic manner possible.
Taylor Kitsch is not having a good year. First was the cinematic disaster of John Carter, then Battleship failed to send us exploding in joy, and now… Savages. Kitsch plays a character who has returned from service as a soldier hardened and cynical. Kitsch manages the role just fine, but never managed to bring any depth to the character. As an actor, he has a limited range and struggles with anything more than being monosyllabic.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson graces our screens for the second time in a month, playing the sensitive foil to kitsch’s hardened war “hero”. As with Anna Karenina, Taylor-Johnson struggles in the emotional stakes, but manages to balance out Kitsch’s character to some degree. Between them, they form almost one complete character. There is a feeling of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde about Ben and Chon, although they become more like one another as the film progresses.
Blake Lively rounds out the trio living the high life in a beachfront mansion. The love triangle storyline, along with the execution of their love and their love of their product, is given too much screen time at the expense of the story as a whole. Lively is pretty and tattooed but has little to do in the film. Her voiceover grounds the film to some degree, but narration feels like a cheap way to tell a needlessly complex and muddled story. The love triangle is predictably the cause of much of the films trouble, although maybe not in the way you might imagine.
Salma Hayek leads a Mexican drug cartel and brings the sinister with a thousand yard stare. Benicio Del Toro is a cartel member and appears to be channelling his character from The Usual Suspects; he’s imposing but unintelligible most of the time. It is easy to forget that John Travolta is in the film at all, so bland and unimpressing is his role, but in it he is, that’s about all there is to say.
Director Oliver stone seems to have lost the touch that made him so famous. Savages, for the most part, plays like an extended music video; the images are beautiful and roll across the screen at a frenetic pace. Sadly, like many films that have come out recently, visual takes preference over story, which is tangled and messy. There is a lot of focus put on the three way love affair – which borders on the gratuitous, leaving the story to fall by the wayside and end up being drawn out and bloated.
Savages is a tangled mess. The characters are one dimensional and selfish, and it is hard to find any reason to root for one side or the other. The film looks pretty in part but by the time the resolution happens, the audience may find themselves wondering why they should care about these selfish and hedonistic characters. It is hard to see what Oliver Stone was trying to achieve with this film, other than to show us that drug dealing is bad, and love triangles cause trouble, but we knew that anyway.