JJ Silf: Savages Review

Posted: July 15, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in JJ Silf's Movie Reviews

Release Date: July 6th, 2012

Running Time: 131 minutes (2 hours and 11 minutes)

Written by: Shane Salerno, Don Winslow, Oliver Stone

Directed by: Oliver Stone

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Benicio Del Toro, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek

Oliver Stone has had quite the storied and successful film career. Be it for his writing, his production or his direction, Stone’s name has been associated with critically acclaimed films under the title of all said categories. Platoon, JFK, Born on the Fourth of July, and Nixon are just a few films under Stone’s direction that have either been recognized by the Academy or have received recognition from respected film critics around the world. What do I think of Oliver Stone’s resumé? Unfortunately, I have no right to comment on said resumé. Believe it or not, I have not been once graced with the viewing of any films under the direction of Mr. Stone (or even a script written by Stone, for that matter). That is until now.

Savages is an Oliver Stone directed and written film revolving around two young men making a living in the high stakes career of marijuana production and sales. Drug dealing. And I’ll stop you right there, unfortunately I’m not talking about the Kevin Smith created characters of Jay and Silent Bob. Instead, the two main protagonists are simply known as Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch); two young men with a deeply rooted friendship and a very successful marijuana production and sales business operation with the creation of a product so powerful and impressive that they soon become the most successful and sought after dealers in the world. Throw in an unconventional relationship between the two best friends and their lover, oddly named “O” (Blake Lively), as well as an angry Mexican drug cartel that seeks to take over the operations of Ben and Chon’s business and you’ve got yourself a movie. Being a newcomer to Oliver Stone’s work, I did not know what to expect first hand but only had the expectations that came from the acclaim that followed his name for past work. But would Savages follow in the footsteps of greatness? Not quite.

I suppose I’ll begin with the script of the film before I talk about anything else. As mentioned, the film is about two American men, Ben and Chon, becoming mixed up in the dangers of the Mexican drug cartel run by one Elena (Salma Hayek) who wishes to take control of their business proceedings. When the two decline the gracious offer, the tables are turned and their beloved is kidnapped in order to entice the two to reconsider. A storyline that has potential, but a storyline that doesn’t bring anything earth-shattering new to the table either. There are moments in the film where things just seem too predictable and you’re crossing your fingers that the film doesn’t simply follow an easy path to the conclusion, but I will admit that there were moments where once that path came, the story veered off in another direction. And keeping on point with the positives that the film’s script presented is the flow that the film had in it’s second and third act. Being a Summer-thriller over two hours of running time, the film surprisingly did not feel like it dragged at any point. The film was able to introduce new plot points at a good pace without the film slowing itself down on one particular aspect of the script. I actually began to feel fairly invested into the story and the characters’ fates about half-way through the film when the tension was picking up. However, the film lost me in the final act. I’m not going to go into detail about the ending and spoil it for those who have yet to see the film, but there is an aspect of the ending that is entirely unnecessary and is a complete waste of time when it’s all said and done. For those who have the seen the film, I’m sure you know what I’m referring to, and it really left a bad taste in my mouth, perhaps more so than most would.

I think I should also touch on the action scenes of a film that is marketed as an action-thriller. I’m sure a lot of people will be walking into the theatres with the intentions of seeing action scenes a plenty, but walk out of the theatres scratching their heads in slight confusion as the ponder the question, “well, where was the action?” The action scenes of the film seem to be few and far between and when there is the occasional shootout, there isn’t anything that you haven’t seen done before in other action-thrillers. Now, is this a knock on the film? Not at all. I would have more complaints with the lack of action if the film failed on it’s story-telling and became a bore without the action. Instead, the film is able to entertain the audience without countless shootouts and fisticuffs. It is something to note however that the film is surprisingly gory. There are mild torture scenes present as well as the aftermath  of horrific and disturbing murders. If you’re not one for seeing a person’s innards exposed to the world, then keep in mind that there might be a few moments where you may want to look away.

Without any doubts in my mind, the acting performances of the cast is what pushes this film forward more than anything else… for the most part. Going into the film, I wasn’t entirely sold on the plot outline and the trailer did not impress me to any degree, but aside from the renowned direction of Oliver Stone, the only thing that provided me with hope was the cast of the film. Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, John Travolta and even Aaron Johnson known for his role as Kick-Ass in the self-titled feature film star in this film. There was plenty of potential, and for the most part, the cast lived up to my expectations. Just to get it out of the way now, Benicio Del Toro was the best thing about this film. Del Toro was cast as Lado, a power hungry and conniving lackey working for Elena (Salma Hayek) and her drug cartel. It is so fun to watch Del Toro at work in this film because he’s just an absolute bad ass at times. He’s ruthless, maniacal and disturbing but I couldn’t help but love the guy. I believe that Aaron Johnson gave a pretty good performance and I was pleased to see him do well with the role as a likeable and compassionate protagonist caught up in a world of violence outside of his comfort zone. Johnson allowed his character to become more than just a one-dimensional character unlike Taylor Kitsch’s performance as Chon. I don’t necessarily believe it’s entirely Kitsch’s fault as the writing does not help him one bit, but the character comes off as the typical war veteran stereotype. You know those geezers who are constricted to a wheelchair and constantly wear an eye-patch when they don’t need to as they go around and explain to others that, “I’ve seen things, man. I’ve seen some crazy stuff, dude.” Well, Chon is basically that guy in his prime years. Just the typical adrenaline junkie war veteran who we are supposed to believe has some psychological troubles stemming from his time overseas when that’s as far as the character goes in terms of development. Mentionable performances aside from the above would be the performances of John Travolta and Salma Hayek. Both fit their roles well and both did a respectable job at conveying to the audience that they aren’t strictly a protagonist or an antagonist but instead are human beings who get caught up in life’s troubles. With all of that out of the way, there’s one noticeable performance that I just have to mention and that would be the performance of one Blake Lively as the damsel in distress, “O”. I found her performance to be resemblant of a rusty nail fiercely puncturing my chest cavity over and over again. It was painful. Her performance felt so out of place and lost between all of the other performances in the film because of how poor she was. She provides a painfully monotone narration and for the majority of the film I am left staring at the screen hoping that she’s done away with soon. Such severe hate could be claimed to be unwarranted for her performance but I absolutely hated her in every single way. There isn’t much else I can say about Blake Lively’s performance in this film other than that she’s a urine stain on an otherwise clean bed sheet.

The film fading to black, the lights illuminating the theatre, and the credits rolling, once the film was over a hatred for what I just watched filled my heart. I truly did despise the film as I left the theatre but that hatred was merely a temporary result of a sloppy ending that I felt practically flipped me off. After some time to think about Oliver Stone’s Savages as a whole, I realized that I actually enjoyed it more than I originally thought. I was entertained by some very good performances and an interesting second act that got me invested in the story more than I had expected for what seemed like such a basic plot outline. The film is definitely not perfect and it isn’t an entirely new concept being brought to the screen either, but it provides some good fun. At the end of the day, I can’t tell anyone not to see this film strictly because of the performances from the majority of the cast and the gritty direction coming from Oliver Stone. Have fun with it and try to bare the horrors that comes with this Blake Lively performance.

Rating: C

  1. le0pard13 says:

    I recommend Don Winslow’s source novel. It’s another of his great ones.

    • JJ Silf says:

      It’s always a rare occasion when I read a novel, but I will for sure keep a lookout.

      Thanks for reading!

      • le0pard13 says:

        It’s very much worth it, especially since Don Winslow is probably the preeminent crime fiction author right now writing about the drug war and its effects on both sides of the border. If reading time is hard to come by, I’d also recommend the Tantor Audio audiobook, narrated by Michael Kramer. Finally, Jon Peter’s Page to Screen write-up may help convince you.

      • JJ Silf says:

        Well my interest has definitely been peaked. Audiobook seems like it could be up my alley. Thanks for the info!

  2. CMrok93 says:

    Could have been more insane and wild like I expected, but it was still fun, mainly because of Stone’s assured direction. So glad to see him back and doing actual films again. Good review JJ.

    • JJ Silf says:

      I too was expecting a larger quantity of wild action scenes based on the original trailers, but overall it didn’t bother me too much.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Kristen says:

    You shared the exact sentiments I had about this film. I’m a huge fan of the original Don Winslow book and when I got to that ending it screamed of either Hollywood editing or Oliver Stone trying to go with that new cheerier side of his movies he’s been trying to spew the last few years. It had potential, I had no idea a film could show Taylor Kitsch acting but that ending just made me want my money back.

    • JJ Silf says:

      I’m glad I’m not alone in those sentiments. I actually hadn’t heard much about Don Winslow’s work prior to this film but I’ve heard nothing but good things in regards to his literary work.

      Thanks for reading!

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