Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, John Travolta
Running Time: 131 mins
Release: 21 September
“There’s a movie on TV…it’s by Oliver Stone,” sing Fountains of Wayne on their song, Planet of Weed. It’s a funny line. He is exactly the kind of director that you’d imagine stoners would like – stylistic, trippy visuals; hedonistic characters; and, of course, silly conspiracies.
Alexander, W., that awful Wall Street sequel… It’s hard to believe after this decade-long bad run, but Oliver Stone was once among the most revered filmmakers on the planet. Savages would’ve seemed like the perfect comeback film for him, but—despite some moments of panache—it doesn’t quite come together.
The film opens on a lovingly shot Californian beach house, where a trio of middle-class, white marijuana dealers live. There’s philanthropic, hippy, botanist Ben (Aaron-Taylor Johnston), former hot-shot soldier Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and the lover they share, O (Blake Lively). They make tonnes of money, Ben spends some on third-world charitable trips, and they have a DEA agent (John Travolta) in their pocket.
This easygoing, lucrative lifestyle is soon endangered, though, when they get unwanted attention from a ruthless Mexican drug cartel, led by Elena (Salma Hayek).
The guys reject a partnership with the Mexicans, but it’s no big surprise that ruthless henchman Benicio del Toro won’t just turn around and walk away. They have their sights on the business, their premium product, and poor little O.
For its first act, Savages is a treat: Kitsch and Johnston have presence to burn, it’s a good premise (albeit similar to Breaking Bad) and it’s a great looking film. There’s sumptuous cinematography from Stone regular Dan Mindel, who makes the colours pop from the screen. And del Toro is a fantastic villain: Sleazy and imposing, in one scene he literally twirls his moustache!
However, once the story settles in, the pace slows to a crawl, which is fatal to a thriller like this. Also, Stone has admitted in the past that he doesn’t understand women. Maybe it’s unfair to use this confession as a stick to beat him with, but the female-led scenes in Savages really are the weakest: Lively—so good in The Town—is left at sea by a cardboard, damsel-in-distress character.
It’s not quite a write-off, but what should have been a lean, pulpy 90-minute adrenaline rush, is a bloated, 2-hour-plus disappointment.
Whatever one thinks of Savages, at least it will have one dubious distinction: One line of voiceover is so awful, so monumentally stupid, that I imagine it’ll be quoted for years to come. “I had orgasms,” Lively purrs when describing sex with her troubled ex-soldier boyfriend, “…he had wargasms.”