Monday, December 31, 2012

Savage Acting, Writing, Directing.

Movie Review: Savages

Director: Oliver Stone

Reviewed: 31 December 2012

jamesintexas rating--*

Oliver Stone's tepid new film "Savages" is more memorable to me for its building-sized Hollywood advertisements making use of the main characters wearing terrifying skeletal masks than for any sort of commitment to story, character development, or narrative.  I like the masks; they are scary.

It is difficult to reconcile this filmmaking with the exhilaration displayed in "Platoon," "JFK," or "Natural Born Killers.  Yet even so, if I didn't know who the director was (and to be true, this film seems stripped of most of Oliver Stone's fingerprints), "Savages" would still be a disappointment.  It hinges upon two friends, Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who are Yin and Yang; one, an ex-soldier turned mercenary and the other, an eco-warrior interested in using pot profits to save the world.  Both are united in love for O (Blake Lively), a Malibu party-girl who completes the noncompetitive love triangle and narrates the film.  Along the Pacific Coast Highway, Chon and Ben create and distribute the most powerful strains of marijuana which does not go unnoticed by the Tijuana cartels, represented by Lado (Benicio Del Toro), businessman Alex (Damian Bichir), and kingpin Elena, La Reina (a vicious Salma Hayek).  South moves North, and Chon and Ben must decide whether to walk away or to work with the cartel.  And, to add pressure to the deal, the cartel kidnaps O.  All hell breaks loose, and throw in loose canon DEA man Dennis (John Travolta), and you've got the ingredients for a messy, nasty stew of a film.

But, Stone never raises the heat or makes the film boil.  His leads are both lacking charisma and acting chops, and they have to carry the movie.  And they can't.  Some of the narration is insipid (and was in Don Winslow's novel), but in addition to that, Stone struggles to tie any of the scenes together or to sustain emotion.  He telegraphs revelations clumsily, and unwisely, he spends too much time on his young leads instead of his veterans.  I would have liked to have seen more of Hayek, Del Toro, and Travolta behaving badly, especially.  Del Toro is just so interesting, and I wish he had been given more to do.  There seems to have been more with Hayek's character, but that too is dropped.  There seems to be an attempt to criticize US drug enforcement policy and throw in some politically relevant material.  Nothing works.  It's not smart; it's not fun.  Stone is a smarter filmmaker than this and certainly a more stylish one.

I expect more.  Check out the movie poster below, and tell me if it isn't promising something exhilarating.

Go back through Oliver Stone's impressive catalogue.  And watch one of those films instead.

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