Friday, July 13, 2012

"Savages" and Oliver Stone's mistakes


Oh Oliver Stone, no one can blame him for aiming high. The director of such classics as Platoon and JFK isn't one to do things subtly, his levels of excess in movies such as U Turn, Any Given Sunday and Nixon can be too much. In his latest called Savages you get both the good side of Stone and the bad side. He miscasts Blake Lively in the lead role of O (short for Ophelia) a muse and lover for two big time pot dealers Ben and Chon, played by Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch. The boys' product is incredible, their secret? They get their marijuana seeds from Afghanistan, where Johnson was stationed as a Navy Seal and got a contact. Things get tight and the plot kicks in when the Mexican cartel tries to get their share of the business and the boys reject their offer. In comes Salma Hayek's queenpin Elena, who's love for her neglecting daughter far exceeds the brutal business she handles. Elena doesn't like the rejection from Ben and Chon and decides to kidnap O to make them change their minds. Plot twists ensue that shouldn't be revealed.

Stone, co-writing the screenplay with Don Winslow and Shane Salerno, doesn't skimp on the violence, here in Stone's world the blood is real and so are the stakes. Just like in his underrated U Turn from 1997, Stone pounds our heads with so much that the film can't help but have flaws within it edges. For one, the 131 minute running time is typical of a director who's had practically a dozen 2 hour + movies in his career. the plot structure can also be incoherent at times, abruptly jumping from one scene to the next and skimming through plot points without second notice. Thirdly, there's the ending. Which is a botched -ambitious- attempt at Tarantino-ing up his film. Too bad, because when it does get its juices on Savages becomes a hell of a ride that shows just how talented a storyteller Stone can be. 

At his worst -Natural Born Killers- he will send a movie's message to his audience with a nail hammered to their heads but at his best -Platoon- he will uncover deep, dark truths with the kind of subtlety and grace that has been so unnatural to him in his career. Savages fits right in the middle of that pack. There isn't really much substance to it, unless you look at it as a pro-marijuana legalization film, yet its action is relentless and made by a madman who's made a career on being a madman. This isn't high art, even though Stone might want you to think it is, it's just another vision from an auteur who hasn't yet calmed down and wants to continue to be heard. His new picture will surely rile up some people, there were walkouts at my screening, but that's just part of the fun that comes with having a new Oliver Stone movie.

Blog Archive