SAVAGES


The new Oliver Stone movie.  I think it is safe to say that this is what one would call a misstep in Stone’s oeuvre.   I could be wrong, of course.  I often am.  But to be ruthlessly honest, I would have to say the movie simply doesn’t work.  An indication that things are not going well shows up fairly quickly.   In a voice over, O (for Ophelia—yes, you read that right), a post modern flower child, is having passionate sex with her boyfriend Chon.  He’s a standard character in a Stone film, the war veteran forever haunted by the memories of what he went through.  O describes it more or less as: He has wargasms, while I have orgasms.  The screenplay (by Stone, Shane Salerno and Don Winslow who also wrote the book it’s based on) doesn’t get any better, and often gets a bit worse, sorry to say.  Savages is a story about some drug dealers.  Guess whether this is going to go well; go ahead, I dare you.  To paraphrase Captain Renault from Casablanca:  I’m shocked, shocked to find out that people who deal drugs get into trouble.  And in fact, the whole movie feels a little late, like it should have been done ten years ago (though even then it might have felt just a tad frayed around the edges).  I’m not sure why Stone made this film.  It’s unclear he has anything to really add to the many drug films that have come before.  Well, I sort of take that back.  There is something, though I have to believe it’s totally unintentional.  The basic conflict is between three idealistic and semi-naïve friends (O, played by Blake Lively; Chon, played by Taylor Kitsch; and Ben, played by Aaron Johnson); they’re all white.  The homophobic, racist, corrupt, vile and sadistic bad guys are played by Benicio Del Toro, Demian Bichir and Salma Hayek (guess what ethnic background they are).  I don’t know if Stone is trying to make a political statement here, but I’ll give him a benefit of the doubt and say it was all accidental.  At the same time, he may have tried to even everything out by casting the three innocents with actors who can’t quite, I’m afraid to say, keep up with the Joneses.  This is especially emphasized in a scene between Del Toro and John Travolta, the finest scene in the movie, in which they have a pax de duex over what they’re going to do next while bewailing what it’s like to be middle aged (I’d like to say this scene was worth the price of admission alone, but I can’t quite).   From a structural standpoint, what probably went wrong is that the opening and ending suggest that this is O’s story; and then the movie leaves her for huge chunks of time, so there’s no dramatic arc for her character (and it basically boils down to “it’s not my fault, it’s my mommy’s for not loving me enough”).  There’s also something a little ironic in Stone’s use of Chon’s haunted military past.  It’s awful what Chon had to go through; but without it, none of the characters would have survived.  It’s unclear that Stone purposely intended this irony.  In the end, the only daring thing in the movie is the menage a trois relationship between O, Chon and Ben (with the suggestion, from Hayek, that the two bros are only having carnal knowledge of O because they can’t bring themselves to have it with each other).   But this presents its own problem.  Though O is the central character, this suggests her only purpose for existence is to have sex with the Chon and Ben.  She has no other reason to be there.   After thinking it all over, I believe I’ll just go back to my original statement and say that, unfortunately, the movie doesn’t work.
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