A long time ago a young Yale dropout Vietnam veteran burst onto the scene as a big shot Hollywood director. In one year alone he made one good movie about the Vietnam War and mere months later made Platoon, perhaps the greatest movie about the Vietnam War. The film was a huge success and created a career for a then unknown actor by the name of Charlie Sheen. Director Oliver Stone followed up his Oscar winning film the next year with Wall Street, continuing to prove that he was an auteur director. After Wall Street, Stone continued to make R rated political films, most of which found success both critically and at the box-office. In 2004 however, Stone released his epic on the life of Alexander, only to be bashed by both critics and audiences becoming a disastrous flop. Stone’s next feature was the 9/11-firefighter movie World Trade Center and was the first PG-13 film of Stone’s entire directing career. What followed Alexander was 8 years of watered down PG-13 films, ending with one of the most embarrassing sequels ever made; Wall Street 2. This weekend Stone is coming back with his first R rated film in almost a decade and what is expected to be a long-awaited return to form.
Savages begins with Ben (Aaron Johnson), Chon (Taylor Kitsch), and O (Blake Lively) all living together in a love triangle, growing and selling the best marijuana and making a bundle off it. Soon into the film they are notified that there is a ruthless Mexican drug cartel looking to buy them and their product, but Ben and Chon both decide they want to leave the business and attempt to flee the country. Unfortunately the drug cartels need the boys, and when word gets out of them leaving, they kidnap O and force Ben and Chon to work for them by threatening to kill O if they don’t.
Is Savages good? No, not really, but it’s a lot of fun. Is it a return for form for Stone? No, but it’s a step in the right direction. The film is riddled with bloody decapitated heads and over the top violence; the villains are nasty and vicious, yet hilarious at the same time (thanks to Benicio Del Toro who chews the scenery every chance he gets).
Unfortunately the areas the film fails with most are the three protagonists. The worst performance of the entire film is given by Blake Lively, who is unfortunately the narrator of the film. She mumbles throughout the entire film and seems unable to create more than two or three facial expressions. It’s not a good thing when the narrator of the film is being locked up and tortured, and I find myself rooting for the guy who just decapitated five people. Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch are possibly the two blandest leads I have seen from an Oliver Stone film, who’s usually able to get a decent performance out of his actors. They play a cliché stoner and a cliché ex-marine respectively, and that’s all they are because there’s really nothing else to their characters.
Luckily Del Toro, Travolta and Hayek are all great as the antagonists. Hayek plays the head of the drug cartel, which creates a nice running gag when people are constantly surprised to see a woman as the head. She juggles the role by playing for laughs as well as being a cold-hearted killer who doesn’t flinch at the sight of her men dying. Travolta plays a slimy DEA officer who is never telling the truth and is always quick with his tongue.
Savages is a fun movie, but one you watch once and forget by the time summer ends. See it in a packed theater to enjoy watching the crowd’s reaction to all the violence.
Savages opens tomorrow in Philly-area theaters.