Wednesday, July 04, 2012
Stone has kind of wandered in the cinematic wilderness the past few years, bringing films like World Trade Center, W. and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps to the big screen, with each offering seeming half completed and half thought through. Like these movies, Savages comes armed with good ideas and a strong promise, but can't seal the deal in the end.
I was going to try to write around this and maybe even find a graceful way to bring it up, but there's no better way to explain the biggest problem Savages has going for it than just coming out and saying it. Blake Lively. Look, Lively is an attractive young woman, but, geez, is she a poor actress. Not only is she miscast in this role, but Stone has given her a handful of lines that are just dead-on-delivery clunkers. "I have orgasms. Chon has wargasms," Lively's O (short for Ophelia) says within the first three minutes of the movie. Horrible dialogue spoken by an actress who shouldn't be in this kind of movie. O is the movie's narrator too, which immediately puts Savages at a disadvantage. Narration is hard, and it doesn't get any easier when the actress can't be taken seriously.
The writing goes beyond Lively's lines though. The screenplay for Savages is littered with lines that probably weren't supposed to be jokes, but got laughter from the audience anyways. A movie focused on the violent Mexican drug wars and their expansion into America is likely not going for laughs, but the audience at the screening of Savages that I saw acted like the movie was a comedy.
These weak spots are unfortunate, as Savages had the potential to be a stylized and cool film. A vigilante version of Blow, if you will. Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson do an exceptional job playing two guys who just want to sell weed who slowly morph into, well, savages in order to save O, the girl they both love. Stone blurs the line between Kitsch's Chon, Johnson's Ben and O being lovers or just Chon and Ben having a strong bromance while both sleeping with O.
Salma Hayek steals the movie as Elena, the drug lord who has kidnapped O. The actress goes from threatening to sweet and back again in many of her scenes, struggling with O's place as a surrogate for the daughter who wants nothing to do with Elena. Benicio del Toro exudes creepiness as the man who kidnaps and keeps O prisoner, eventually revealing a vile secret to O. And if you're interested in seeing John Travolta play a shady DEA agent, Savages can help you check that off your bucket list. Emile Hirsch even has a small role in Savages, giving us all a chance to discover that he looks exactly like he did almost ten years ago in The Girl Next Door.
Savages is a film on the verge of being very good. It can be ridiculous at times, offering characters with names like Chon and Spin. It's ultra violent, but has trouble deciding whether it wants to glorify that violence or make you feel guilty for cheering it on. The film's ending is completely frustrating for this very reason, as if Stone couldn't make up his mind and just ... well, I'll let you figure out what I'm talking about on your own.