For the past 5 months, every time I’ve gone to the movies, I’ve seen the trailer for Oliver Stone’s new film, Savages. It’s a pretty exciting trailer, featuring sex, violence, and Taylor Kitsch’s abs. Despite Oliver Stone’s recent track record of making preachy, boring films, that trailer got a lot of people excited about the prospect of seeing Savages.
Well, the film has been released, I’ve seen it, and you know what? Sometimes, trailers lie.
Savages is the story of Chon, Ben, and O. Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) sell the greatest weed in the world and O (Blake Lively) is the woman who loves both of them at the same time. O, by the way, is short for Ophelia and she narrates the film in such a monotonous style that I have to admit that I was shocked to discover that she actually knew she was named after Hamlet’s doomed girlfriend. Chon is a violent former Navy SEAL while Ben is a laid-back buddhist who wants to get out of the drug business so he can devote his time to environmental activism. (Zzzzzzzzzz….)
Ben’s marijuana becomes so legendary that soon, a Mexican drug cartel led by Salma Hayek decides that both Ben and Chon are going to work exclusively for them. Ben and Chon refuse so Hayek sends Benicio Del Toro to kidnap O and hold her hostage until Ben and Chon come around. Ben and Chon, however, have plans of their own…
On the positive side, Hayek, Del Toro, and John Travolta (playing a corrupt DEA agent) all give excellent performances that would seem to indicate that they — as opposed to everyone else involved with Savages — understand that they’re appearing in an expensive B-movie. They openly devour every piece of scenery in the film and have a fun time wringing every ounce of melodrama out of their pulpy dialogue. These three actors are fun to watch and it’s a shame that the same can’t be said for the other half of the film’s main cast.
Jennifer Lawrence was originally cast in the role of O but she dropped out of Savages so that she could star in The Hunger Games. The role was recast with Blake Lively, who looks like she could be Jennifer Lawrence’s older sister but who, as an actress, has never exhibited the type of wounded determination that has become Lawrence’s trademark. As played by Lively, O is such a passive character that it’s difficult to really care that much about whether she survives or doesn’t. Instead of being a strong, independent woman who is unashamed of her lifestyle, O just comes across as a spoiled and vapid pawn, a possession who is traded between the film’s various players. It doesn’t help that Lively delivers her heavy-handed narration in a flat monotone that makes her come across less like a hard-boiled survivor and more like a spoiled rich girl trying to sound jaded. Every time I heard her refer to Chon and Ben as being “my guys,” I just wanted to scream at the screen, “No, you stupid bitch, you belong to them! They don’t belong to you!”
As for “her guys,” Taylor Kitsch is believable as a killer but not as a stoner. (Kitsch’s character comes across as if he’s been snorting cocaine as opposed to smoking weed.) Aaron Johnson, meanwhile, is a very believable stoner but he’s a lot less believable once his character becomes a killer. Unfortunately, neither Kitch nor Johnson show much in the way of charisma in this film and that’s a shame because both of them have shown in the past that they are capable of giving good performances. (Seriously, just check out Aaron Johnson’s performance in the criminally underrated John Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy.) With neither Chon nor Ben being all that interesting, the film ultimately becomes a rather empty display of style.
And there’s no denying it — Savages has got style to burn. Oliver Stone shows here that — despite such anemic recent films as Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps — he still knows how to film an explosion. Unfortunately, there’s not much going on beneath all of that style and the end result is a film that mostly succeeds in making both sex and violence boring.