The line “directed by Oliver Stone” sure doesn’t have the same ring to it anymore, does it? His latest project, an adaptation of a Don Winslow novel, is far removed from the politically charged arena of JFK, Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. Even if Stone attempts to inject his regular filmmaking chutzpah into this tale of young and wealthy pot growers facing off against a powerful drug cartel, it nevertheless lacks any of the zest that was once came so effortlessly. Savages– all 131 minutes of it– appears tiresomely like a filmmaker whose eagerness to excite comes off as little more than overcompensation for a screenplay that’s as dog-eared as a well-read text with its characters and scenarios appearing to be little more than retreads. One can almost see the edits written in bold red marker it’s so choppy and scattershot, with a third act that will surely raise a sceptical eyebrow of even audiences who, until that point, had been enjoying the ride.
Taylor Kitsch (John Carter) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass) star as Chon and Ben, two young drug dealers whose life in the Californian sun is completed by Blake Lively’s (The Town) free-wheeling O, a girl who’s never too far away from a bikini and whose open relationship with the pot-growing surfer bros makes for the most curious of sun-kissed twentysomething existences. Soon enough, however, they fall afoul of Mexican drug lord Elena (Salma Hayek, Frieda), her mumbling henchman Lado (Benicio del Toro, The Wolfman), and their dirty cop conspirator (John Travolta, Old Dogs). It’s a far more convoluted affair than that initial set up may imply and one gets the feeling it is convoluted purely to give off the illusion of grand complexity and to disguise its otherwise rote simplicity.
If Savages has any pulse to it then Stone and his two co-writers must thank Hayek and Lively. The former tears through her scenes with the rabid ferocity of a wild dog. She literally chews the scenery (prepare for steak cravings!) and her scenes opposite Lively’s beach babe are the film’s most delicious highlights. If the rest had been as knowingly comical as Hayek is gunning for then Stone may have been onto a winner. Sadly, Kitsch and Taylor-Johnson do nothing to make their character interesting outside of looking pretty. Travolta appears to at least to be trying for Hayek’s wavelength, but Del Toro appears as little more than a laboured twist of his character from Traffic some 12 years earlier.
Cinematographer Daniel Mindel has colourfully lit the proceedings, carrying over the visual ticks and stylistic flourishes of his work on Domino. Sadly, Savages seems to be little more than a flat facsimile of that underrated Tony Scott gem. Its energy has long deflated before an ending that will try the patience of even the most forgiving viewers. There’s little to defend once Stone and company have so eagerly adopted the cheap twists of a latter day Shyamalan picture.
Savages is released in Australia on October 18th
Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta, Damian Bichir and Emile Hirsch