Movie Reviews

‘Savages’: A pretty mess

By Wang DexianMovies - 19 September 2012 11:00 AM

‘Savages’: A pretty mess

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Based on the book of the same name by Don Winslow, ‘Savages’ is a star-studded picture set in sunny Laguna Beach, California. The film revolves around Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson of ‘Kick-Ass’ fame), a pair of bros who are the polar opposites of each other.

Chon's the hard ass ex-Navy Seal who served in Afghanistan, therefore serving as the enforcer tough guy equation of any worthy bromance. On the flipside, Ben's the idealistic, peace-loving Buddhist guy who does charity work and wants to change the world. So what do they have in common? Their shared love of a woman, of course.

Ophelia “O” Sage (Blake Lively)a needy rich girl who splits her love (and sexy time) between the two of them. Oh, and the fact that they run a premium marijuana business together, producing a potent new strain from seeds smuggled in by Chon from his time serving in Afghanistan.

Independent drug entrepreneurs! Cool! What's not so cool is the drug cartel from Mexico that wants in on their indie drug business. To communicate that to them, the cartel has enforcer Lado (Benicio del Toro) behead some dudes on a video, which is then sent to the two guys to “persuade” them to attend a meeting to set up such a deal. When Chon and Ben decide to flake out on the deal and run, the cartel kidnaps O. Forced to do the cartel's bidding, the two of them plot their payback and blow s#@! up.

Gossip Girl Blake Lively gets stuck in a love triangle between Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Taylor Kitsch

It's been quite a few long years since Oliver Stone has made a truly memorable film. Over the past decade, he has spent his time muddling about with rather forgettable fare like ‘World Trade Center’, ‘Wall Street 2’ and ‘W’.  ‘Savages’ isn't the film that's going to propel him back to the level he was  once at, but it is the first film in a long while where you can actually feel Stone’s enthusiasm oozing out from the screen.

As you can probably tell from the synopsis of the film, the material is undeniably dark and violent. And it seems like this darker material has energized Stone.

The movie is fearless in its execution resulting in some scenes that don't quite work... and some that just result in some of strongest moments seen in cinema this year. Stone seems to be having fun in the Californian sun with a mix of pretty talented faces and some cagey acting veterans and it clearly shows on screen. While the end result is messy... it’s messy in a good way.

When ‘Savages’ does well though, it does so spectacularly. For once, it's rather nice to see an ensemble cast do collectively well. The two leading men in particular, deserve some kudos. They have a strong and believable chemistry and camaraderie that’s authentic.

Kitsch has had lots of flak thrown his way over this past year for starring in two box office bombs ‘John Carter’ and ‘Battleship’ – but here, he shows that same talent spotted in ‘Friday Night Lights’.

His prototypically tough guy character seems like it's going to be a rather boring one at first glance, but grows so well throughout the course of the film with Kitsch channelling an intense and hard edged performance that's silently awesome. His performance is perfectly complimented by that of Aaron Johnson's, who infuses Ben's unwilling journey to become more like Chon with a sense of maturity and innocence.

The supporting players all step up too. Benico Del Toro's Lado is one of the most psychotically funny characters you'll see on screen this year, able to make you laugh and cower in fear simultaneously. His boss, Elena (played by Salma Hayek) is a delight as a woman (with Cleopatra haircut to boot) forced to assert her authority in a male dominated world. John Travolta has a small role as a corrupt DEA agent that arguably owns the best chuckles in the movie. Heck, even Lively asserts herself as O rather competently, playing her as a broken, needy soul that she is.

Without giving away anything, Stone does botch up the ending. It's a huge demerit and let down to a film that is immensely enjoyable by way of the cast's excellent performances and the graphic violence and dark themes of the script.

A rather combustible package of both good and bad, ‘Savages’ is a brave film that takes lots of risks. It’s entertaining and Stone reminds us all, that he's still a great action director with some of the sequences in the movie.

Viewers should be warned though, that there's an immense of graphic violence in this, including detailed torture scenes - so it's not for the faint of heart. Ultimately, it's not a return to the glory days of ‘Platoon’ for Oliver Stone, but its colourful palette, strong, engaging characters and just good old plain acting ensures something for everyone.

Whether you like it or not, you'll probably have a strong reaction to the film.

‘Savages’ open in theatres 20 Sep 2012