Just because Oliver Stone makes movies look cool doesn’t mean he always makes cool movies. Savages falls somewhere in between cool and ludicrous. O.K., let’s just say it has its moments. Weaving between overtly dark secrecy and over-the-top camp, Savages delivers a cartoonish version of deadly violent subject matter.
When Stone isn’t making some valiant statement in a lavish production (think JFK and Wall Street) he tears his style down to its bare essentials. With Savages, he dishes out a pretty standard story about drug dealing and a kidnap/hostage situation, but he isn’t trying to sell the viewer on much of anything with the use of black-and-white-to-color storytelling, non-linear editing and multiple film stocks.
The plot focuses on a pair of drug dealing stoners who have been friends forever. Ben (Aaron Johnson) is a botanist genius while Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is a military dude doing tour after tour in Afghanistan.
They make the best weed on the planet (smuggled in from Afghanistan) and have built up an empire that on one hand does good deeds like helping out Africa and supplying medical marijuana, while supporting dirty drug dealers.
They both love and live with “O” (Blake Lively), the chick who loves them both right back. They all reside in Laguna Beach in a blissful love triangle made in heaven, that is until the evil drug cartel in Mexico wants a piece of the action. O is kidnapped to get Ben and Chon to comply with their demands. It’s easy to comprehend the bad guys won’t play fair. The stoners do not go for the plan, and the cartel reciprocates by resorting to, you guessed it, savagery and violence.
Stone has a way to suck you in with mood and color, but he also frustrates. Just when you think his moral compass is pointing one direction, he reverses polarity. This happened with his biopics W and Nixon. Audiences expected him to ream the ex-Prezs a new one based on his personal politics. Instead, he sympathized with their plights. In this case, however, Stone employs blood-spewing ultra-violence with little effect, supplanting insight with stupidity.
Stone has a lot, too much in fact, to say about the war in Afghanistan and the war on drugs that isn’t a war at all but just a police and political corruption scandal. The main implication is that no one can be trusted, as evidenced by the double dealing, backstabbing and requisite graphic depiction of blood, guts, torture and mayhem.
The best thing to say about Stone is he gets great performances out of his actors (he even got one out of Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July), and Savages is no exception.
Performance wise, Savages is a gold mine— the work Stone wrings out the cast is the best reason to watch this flick.
Benicio Del Toro takes on one of his more entertainingly funny roles as a crazed hit man who runs a Mexican landscaping cleanup crew.
It’s hard to look at the portly Travolta the same way since the tabloid massage accusations, but he’s a great whiny slime-ball. Selma Hayek is at her diabolical nuttiest as the wicked witch with a black heart of gold. Then there’s Kitsch, who, besides having a really bad last name, is unrecognizable from his last outing as John Carter.
Blake Lively is, well, Blake Lively and finally gets a lot of screen time without having to take off her top to do it.
But Aaron Johnson is the guy to watch. I didn’t even put it together till way later that this is the same guy from Kick-Ass! and Nowhere Boy (playing John Lennon); this dude is a true chameleon.
Savages’ has all the right ingredients, but the generic storyline and ending are huge letdowns. After all the smoke clears, the audience is left pondering, “Was that good, or just about the worst thing I’ve ever seen?” In other words, it’s Oliver Stone at his best and worst—as usual.
Must See Oliver Stone Movies
Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, Billy Bob Thornton, Powers Booth and Nick Nolte
A dark comedy with badass soap opera tendencies, U-turn tells the tale of one mishap after another. A corrupt sheriff, in a dysfunctional little town keeps drifter Penn stuck in psychotic limbo. He kills time enticed by the alluring femme fatale in this Twilight Zone-like messed up little flick that’s like a combination of the Postman Always Rings Twice and Red Rock West. This is one of Stone’s most overlooked flicks. A perfect desert film noir boasting some of the best cameos ever! Check out Billy Bob’s grease monkey. This flick is also famous for driving a wedge between Stone and Penn’s relationship that is vile to put it mildly. Neither has a kind word for the other
to this day.
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tommy Lee Jones and Tom Sizemore
The quintessential commentary on violence in the media, as serial killers Mickey and Mallory Knox become folk heroes and legends thanks to reality TV and the media’s warped and overblown coverage. Written by Quentin Tarantino, Stone’s psychedelic onslaught of sex, violence and the media’s propaganda machine is satirized to the point of desensitization and overload. Stone’s vision uses every camera trick in the book, different film stock, quadruple soundtracks and insanely paced editing. Through Stone’s never-ending adherence to Native American mysticism, he skewers consumerism, superficiality, mediocrity, and banality within the media and pop culture. Plus every single actor chews up the scenery every chance they get.
Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, Steven Bauer
Who hasn’t seen this expletive-laden masterpiece? Scarface is the all-encompassing saga of Cuban immigrant Tony Montana who takes over a drug cartel while succumbing to greed. This Stone-penned cult classic was directed by Brian DePalma and is the ultimate modern violent gangster epic. Scarface almost reinvents the “so bad it’s good” category. From the bloody chainsaw scene to the riveting shoot outs to the terrible Cuban accents unevenly spewed by Al Pacino, Stephen Bauer and Robert Loggia, it’s a laugh riot from beginning to end. It’s all served up over three hours while a coke sniffing young Michelle Pfeiffer looks riveting and wrecked… It also produced one of the most quoted movie lines of all time with Pacino’s declaration/epithet, “Say hello to my little friend.”
Point of interest: I remember wondering when I left the theater after seeing Scarface for the first time, “Who wrote this? A ten-year-old kid?” Nope, just the always immature Oliver Stone, and that’s when he’s
the most fun.