Blake Lively and Taylor Kitsch in Savages.
Savages is a mildly entertaining film with enough violence to hold your attention, but with a host of flaws that keep it from being very good. Chief among these weaknesses is the rather dull, unlikability of the lead characters and a dual ending that feels like a cheat. Because of that and other problems, the movie ends up feeling flat and disappointing.
Blake Lively stars and delivers a monotone voice-over as the poor little rich girl, Ophelia. She's living and sleeping with both Ben and Chon, two drug dealers in Southern California. The three of them live an idealized fantasy of a drug dealer's life. Ben is the brains and Chon is the muscle, although in this fantasy, according to O, they've taken out 99% of the violence from the business. Ben is also a liberal humanitarian who spends his drug profits in the third world, helping the poor and underprivileged. Like I said, it's a fantasy.
The happy little threesome is disturbed when a Mexican cartel, headed by Elena (Hayek), moves northward and wants to become partners with them. When Ben and Chon turn down their offer, the cartel kidnaps Ophelia in order to blackmail Ben and Chon to joining them.
Although I found the trio of leads to be dull and unlikable, the supporting cast is great. Travolta brings some life to the movie as a Drug Enforcement Agent on the take from everyone. He only has a few scenes, but he demonstrates more personality in those few moments than the three leads manage in the whole movie. Hayek makes an interesting Drug Lord (or should that be Drug Lady?) as the ruthless woman in charge who wants to take care of her family. Del Toro is particularly effective as the slimy and villainous strong arm of Elena's.
I'd have been happier with the three lead characters if the script wasn't trying to turn them into good guys. At one point, Ophelia compares the three of them to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with her in the Katherine Ross role. The big difference between that movie and this one though (apart from that one being a good movie and this one not) is that Butch and Sundance were never portrayed as anything but what they were, which is a couple of robbers.
Once Ben and Chon go on their quest for revenge, there's enough action and violence to keep things moving along. Even though I wasn't crazy about the leads, Del Toro is evil enough that you definitely want to see him get his comeuppance. I kept waiting for that final, and hopefully satisfying ending.
Which brings me to the movie's other problem. The ending is horrible. It's not bad because of how it ends, but because it ends and then just when you're expecting the credits to roll, Ophelia does another voice-over that says, “Or at least that's how I imagined it would go down.” Then the story rewinds 10 minutes and shows us how it “really happened”. Well, what the fuck was the point of showing us the other ending then? Could Stone not decide how to end it, so he filmed two different versions and decided to include them both?
There's some style to the way things are filmed and some nice supporting performances, but overall the movie just never quite comes together.
Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Savages.
Savages is a beautifully shot misstep by Oliver Stone. I agree the main characters are all pretty dull, the dual ending is patently ludicrous and the supporting cast steals the movie away from the pretty but vapid stars. There have been comedies that glorified marijuana but Savages is the first drama/action movie I have seen that does so. O's voice-over narration starts with, “Just because I'm telling you this story... doesn't mean I'm alive at the end of it.” Of course that pretty much guarantees her survival.
The only interesting aspect of the movie was the polyamorous relationship between O, Chon and Ben. These three incredibly gorgeous young people live together as a 3-way couple. The fact that it is 2 men with 1 woman gives it a unique twist. It is almost as if Chon and Ben are in love with each other but need O for sexual gratification. They have sex with her at the same time but are never shown touching each other. Oliver Stone seems to tiptoe around the homosexual overtones of their male bond.
Elena figures it out though. She even tells O at one point, “They must love each other more than you, otherwise how could they share you.” The scene near the end where Ben and Chon vocalize their love for each other is laughable. It seems very anticlimactic at that particular point in time and Aaron Taylor-Johnson's acting in this scene is pretty bad. And normally I am a fan of his.
The movie wants to make the point that we are all savages when you get right down to it and that civilization is really a jungle where the strong eat the weak. The final scene suggests that only in nature can we find our true state of being as beautiful savages. This is hardly original or profound nor is it particularly persuasive.
The violence is a throwback to Stone's Natural Born Killers, a superior movie that seemed shocking and cutting edge in 1994. Savages, by comparison, is actually quite old fashioned. I enjoyed a few scenes. Benicio Del Toro plays a sadistic drug dealer who tortures and beheads his competition with relish yet he expresses fatherly concern about his 15 year old daughter being on the pill. It is a nice touch. Another scene shows Travolta's DEA agent in a hospital room visiting his wife who's dying of cancer. He has an emotional breakdown where he confesses his corruption to her and expresses a rather poignant longing for something pure and clean in life.
Unfortunately these few scenes of humanity are overshadowed by ridiculous action sequences where the main point seems to be the violence itself. The behind the scenes deals and back and forth backstabbing of the drug trade are fairly interesting to watch unfold. It is like big business only without any legal restrictions or regulation by the authorities. Disagreements are settled with guns.
I didn't hate Savages but by the time this overly long drug fantasy ended -for the second time- I was feeling pretty savage myself.
Photos © Copyright Universal Pictures (2012)