SAVAGES is the new crime film from Oliver Stone, about two young idealistic pot entrepreneurs taking on a ruthless Mexican cartel (which is one of the most common types of cartels). The tale is narrated to us by O (GREEN LANTERN’s girlfriend Blake Lively) who is the shared lover of botany genius/philanthropist Ben (Aaron KICKASS Johnson) and Iraq vet/muscle-of-the-operation Chon (Taylor JOHN CARTER Kitsch). The two grew up together as surf bums in Laguna Beach and then one day decided to bring home marijuana seeds from Afghanistan and create a new strain. And the shit blew up like Apple.

That’s the unique thing about this story is the way it treats the drug trade as one of these great American stories of a progressive business that starts small, grows due to its dedication to quality and tries not to sell out its original ideals. Ben (unrecognizable as Kickass with his dreadlocks, goatee and tattoos) is obsessed with Buddhist philosophy, has successfully removed most of the violence from his business and spends much of his time traveling to Burma and Africa building schools and helping with irrigation and shit. His crew includes a rail-thin supermodel-looking messenger with giant afro puffs, some hip young computer experts who look like they could be the interns on a TV show, and Emile SPEED RACER Hersch (starting to look like Jack Black), who’s their accountant or something but wears bicycle gear in all of his scenes.

They never say it, but I bet these people all get good health insurance and shares in the company. They probly get to decorate their cubicles in creative ways and ride around on scooters like the people at Pixar. I think Ben thinks he’s Bill Gates, or they’re those kids in THE SOCIAL NETWORK or somebody.

But Chon – and maybe this is the rare case where putting their names on the screen would’ve helped, because I kept trying to figure out if they were just pronouncing “John” weird or what – knows he’s not running Ben and Jerry’s. A bunch of his ex-SEAL buddies do the security work for their little startup, and they tend to be kept at arm’s length – in the other room, in another car, on the hill watching through sniper scopes – like a strategic form of denial. But they’re always there, and when things go wrong they’re not gonna make peace, like Ben wants, they’re gonna blow up a bunch of cars and shoot a bunch of people. Even before the events of the movie you know that Chon had to every once in a while go stab somebody as part of his job. When he gets a threatening email with a video of like 10 decapitated bodies he doesn’t piss his pants, he just says “I’ve seen worse, and I’d do worse to them.”

“Them” is the vicious Baja cartel, using Indian territory as a way of reaching into the U.S. for a hostile takeover of the “indie growers” like Ben and Chon. Before it’s a drug war it’s a business negotiation, people meeting and considering offers. It’s really not just about money to them, it’s about deciding the future of something they love, that they built from the ground up. The parallels to the corporate world are made explicit by their favorite crooked DEA agent Dennis (John FACE/OFF Travolta) when he advises them not to “fuck with Walmart.”

Remember, Oliver Stone is the guy who wrote SCARFACE, so he’s got a good track record for anti-hero drug empire epics. Here he gets ampersand credits with Don Winslow (author of the book it’s adapted from) and Shane Salerno (ALIENS VS. PREDATORS VS. REQUIEMS). And I’m not saying this is nearly as good as SCARFACE but just as that one’s very ’80s and Florida this is very 2000s and California.

These kids are alot more laid back than Tony Montana. They’re not street thugs, they’re educated in business, and their knack for violence comes from going to war. Tony killed his best friend for falling in love with his sister, these two share the same girl and never once get jealous. The most vicious character in the movie calls them “savages” because of their PAINT YOUR WAGON lifestyle choices. They defy storytelling law by keeping the love triangle perfectly balanced at all times.

O is an interesting narrator because she’s nice, but not too bright. When her two men are having a life-or-death philosophical debate about how to handle this threat she cluelessly interupts, puts her hands on their shoulders and says, “Oooh, the testosterone!” Then gets them to take her out for drinks. Before running away to Indonesia to hide out from the cartel she insists on going shopping for outfits, even has a guy put all her bags in the back of her convertible for her. While being held hostage in a dirty little cell with little more than a mattress and a bucket she demands a video conference with the cartel leader to beg for access to weed. They torment her by watching some Real Housewives show with her – not sure if it bothers her because it’s so horrible, or because she misses the lifestyle it depicts.

The head of the Cartel is Elena, played by Salma Hayek, my favorite part of the movie. Man, when was the last time she stole a movie? Good for her. I thought she’d be a real over-the-top superbitch type of villain, instead she’s weirdly sympathetic. She turns out to have inherited the position somewhat reluctantly and has a daughter she wants a better relationship with

Is it a ridiculous coincidence, for symbolism’s sake, that the daughter lives in Laguna and shops at the same place and time as O? I like to think it’s no coincidence, that Elena found out about their weed from her daughter. But maybe not. At any rate I like how she tries to be a better mother even while being a heartless druglord and a ridiculous rich person (it’s not just that she owns horses, those fancy saddles they wear look fuckin expensive). At times she can’t help but be a little motherly to her hostage, seeming concerned about how long the girl’s been smoking pot. And O seems to lash out at her as a substitute for the mother who’s never around (apparently played by Uma Thurman, but cut from the movie).

I also think it’s kinda charming that Elena doesn’t seem to understand what Chon means when he says “you want us to eat your shit and say it’s caviar,” but takes offense and keeps calling him “Mr. Eat Shit Caviar.” She’s got guys chopping off heads for her but she can’t stand this vulgarity.

Another great character is her sicko enforcer Lado, played by Benicio Del Toro. Made me realize I’ve missed this crazy bastard, he’d only done THE WOLFMAN since the two CHE movies 4 years ago. There are alot of weird little Del Toronian touches to the character, one of them being that he seems to be against eating fruits and vegetables. O complains that he never brings her salads, so he feeds her steak. When he steals a sandwich from John Travolta he takes the tomatoes off before eating it.

He’s a great villain – scary and funny and gross, and when he gets a chance to beg for his life you find out there’s another level of scumbaggery to him. But of all the great things he does in the movie the best is when he makes a gesture for an underling to execute a witness. He can’t say it out loud because he’s in the middle of making a threatening phone call to a rival.

It’s also kinda exciting to see Travolta in this. It’s not as big of a character but he’s not too hammy and willing to play kind of a dork, even using his real hairline. The opposite of his trying-way-too-hard-to-be-awesome character in TO PARIS WITH LOVE.

There’s a weird little thing in the movie where O is trying to compare their situation to BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (don’t they always in movies like this?) but she doesn’t know the title, says “it’s just like in that movie,” and one of them jokes, “AVATAR?” It’s a funny line, and then a little later they’re with their computer experts and one of them is none other than Joel David Moore, computer expert from AVATAR. He shows up with lines in a later scene, but it would’ve been funny if they’d left it as a random walk-on.

If you’re wondering, this is a fairly straightforward Oliver Stone, it’s not nearly as NATURAL BORN KILLERSy as the trailer makes it look. I mean yeah, there’s little clips here and there like a marijuana bud dissolving into a lotus flower and then into a Buddha, and a couple uses of deliberately overbearing classical music, but stylistically it’s tame compared to NBK or even U-TURN. It shows more of the seasoned professional side of Stone than the excessive weirdo side. He knows how to put it all together and keep it moving at a sprint.

I have only one major complaint about the story but it’s a big SPOILER because it’s about how they do the ending. It comes to a good conclusion, then O says that’s how she imagined it happened, but what really happened was… and it rewinds back and then basically has an alternate ending. I think they tried to set up this device earlier, but it sure didn’t fly with me. Why was she daydreaming about different shit happening? I don’t get it, and I like the first ending better. The second one would’ve seemed perfectly acceptable if you didn’t first present me with a different choice. I don’t know what they were going for here but it just seems like they couldn’t decide on an ending so they used two.

It’s a solid, entertaining crime movie though, with good characters, tense moments, some real good performances by actors who don’t get enough chances for that these days, and some unique spins on a familiar genre that I enjoy. I think it deserves more credit than it’s getting so far. What’s it gotta do, put on a skeleton mask and start kidnapping people?

This entry was posted on Saturday, July 7th, 2012 at 11:18 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

62 Responses to “Savages”

  1. Ok, Vern, I get it. I’ll watch PAINT YOUR WAGON.

  2. I could have seen this, but saw TED instead. Uggh.

    Maybe it’s time to be less of a nice accommodating movie friend, and more of domineering hardass who just has to go and pick every movie to see.

  3. Hardass would have saved me from Duplex back in the day.

  4. The Original... Paul

    July 8th, 2012 at 5:12 am

    Well you’ve convinced me to check this one out anyway.

    Salma Hayek in a villainous role? The nearest I’ve ever seen her get to that was being a bodysnatcher in “The Faculty”. Which is hardly the same thing.

  5. I thought it was a mediocre movie, but it did hold my interest for most of the runtime.

    I liked most of the performances and it was nice that the two bros & Blake Lively liked each other so much. Mustache-stroking Benicio is the most charismatic actor in the film by far. He does whatever it takes to entertain you in every scene. Travolta does a good job in handful of scenes he’s in. Salma becomes a sympathetic character during a dinner scene where Blake Lively acts extra dumb. John Carter and Kick-Ass are likeable enough, but there isn’t much to them. You’ve seen it in the trailer: JC is the tough weed dude, Kick Ass is the peaceful weed dude. But I bought that they were friends, so most of their scenes together work. The big problem is Lively’s character. She’s the narrator and you’re supposed to care about what happens to her, but she’s waaayy too simple to really like or hate. She’s basically a rich hippy girl who wants to be with her boys forever and ever. You’re either laughing at how dumb she is (“Ben’s a buddhist, Chon’s a BADDIST”) or shaking your head SALMA-STYLE at how clueless she is.

  6. I’m pleased to see that Oliver Stone looks like he’s getting his mojo back. After watching Alexander, W., and Wall Street 2 I thought we would never see the old Oliver Stone again. I think returning to a straight up genre picture is good for him. He can stop worrying about the “message” and worry more about style and story. M. Night is another filmmaker who sometimes gets too caught up in his own message at the expense of some good old fashioned filmmatism.

  7. Paul, she was a monster in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. I would count that as a villainous role.

  8. The Original... Paul

    July 8th, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Charles – Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Although in all fairness, her villainous side wasn’t the first thing that struck me when I saw her performance in that film.

  9. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkaveikyikE

    Paul, I as well was unable to process thoughts at this point.

  10. The Original... Paul

    July 8th, 2012 at 10:57 am

    Also one could feasibly argue that the monsters in “From Dusk ‘Til Dawn” aren’t the real bad guys in that film. But that, I guess, is semantics.

  11. How do you figure? They are vampires who run a bar so as to lure unsuspecting travelers to their doom. It’s not like they’re just minding their own business when George Clooney happens to wander by.

  12. Whats weird about the Titty twister vampires is that only truckers are allowed in their bar. Is it some kind of grudge the vampires hold against truckdrivers? Or are they just judgmental expecting all truckdrivers to be red neck assholes who deserves a comeuppance? Or do they simply just taste better than most folks? I don´t remember any of the sequels explaining my set of questions…

  13. Where did you get that? I thought it was a bar for criminal types who want to lay low, so that when they disappear, no one will come looking for them. Somehow I doubt that Sex Machine was a trucker.

  14. Danny trejo says that in the first movie. ” This bar is for truckers and bikers only. GET OUT!”
    ok…so bikers are apparently allowed too, thats nice of them.

  15. …I just remembered about the bikers…

  16. I’m glad that the ending was brought up cause this movie had the funniest ending I’ve seen in a long time. All you heard was groans and laughs from the rest of the audience that shit was fucking glorious lmao. Oliver Stone still has balls even when he plays softball with his filmatism.

  17. GrimGrinningChris

    July 8th, 2012 at 11:59 am

    I’d imagine that truckers and bikers were easier prey since many are loners or drifter types who wouldn’t be missed as much as some random white suburbanite tourists?

  18. Bikers I buy. They’re just out there roaming the backroads, going where the wind may take them. But truckers always have a destination and a timeframe in mind. They’re driving someone else’s truck with someone else’s merchandise on it. A trucker can’t just disappear. Somebody’s always gonna want their shit back.

  19. Y’know, between their starting point and their destination, nobody really cares where truckers are and what they do, as long as they don’t run into trouble with the police and arrive on time. So unless you have to drive shit just to a building across the street, nobody will know when and where you went missing.

  20. Yeah, but there are people out there with the incentive to go looking for them. Unlike bikers, who could fall off the face of the planet and nobody would give a shit.

    I’m just saying eating truckers is bad business. Stick to bikers and other assorted lowlifes. It’s more low-profile.

  21. I was in high school when FROM DUSK TILL DAWN was released and it was the beginning of my life long crush on Salma Hayek. She as aged amazingly if you ask me.

  22. FROM DUSK TIL DAWN is still the greatest experience I´ve had in the cinema. The cynical part in me has acknowledged that I will never be able to see the likes of awesome shit like that on the big screen
    again. Ever. I need a drink.

  23. Shoot, you are probably right, but I like to keep my fingers crossed in hopes that with the advancement in affordable technology for shooting and editing a film that we are headed for a low budget genre film renaissance. Also, with the success of theater franchises like Alamo Drafthouse there is proof that with the right business model you can make money showing foreign, art house & indie genre films.

  24. I hate to say it, but if you were a vampire in our society and you wanted a cover for attracting people for food that no would notice if they went missing all you would need to do is open a homeless shelter.

  25. Holly shit, now that I think about it, that is actually a good idea for a movie.

    A down on his luck widowed single father losses his job then his house and he his 2 children are forced to move into a homeless shelter. However, things go from bad to worse when he soon realizes that the shelter is ran by blood thirsty vampires looking to pray on the residents of the shelter that society has forgotten about.

  26. I don’t understand how FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is somehow representative of the type of movies you could see in the theater back then that you just can’t see anymore. It was a rarity in the PC 90s to see a wacko splatter movie like that on the big screen, but that kind of picture has had way more legs in the more violence-friendly 2000s. Since FDTD, you potentially could have seen MACHETE, GRINDHOUSE, PIRANHA 3D, HUMAN CENTIPEDE 1 & 2, DOOMSDAY, SLITHER, SUPER, LAND OF THE DEAD, JASON X, FREDDY VS. JASON, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, DEVIL’S REJECTS, HATCHET II, CREATURE, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, UNDEAD, and various other bloody-as-hell gonzo flicks. What was there back in the mythical good ol’ days of 1996? SCREAM and its ripoffs wouldn’t even come out for another year. You got rose-colored glasses on if you think the mid-nineties were some kind of glory days for exploitation cinema. A movie won’t affect you like FDTD did not because “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” but because you’re a cynical old bastard like the rest of us now.

  27. Mr. M, I don’t think that the 90’s were a great decade for genre cinema and I will admit to being a sucker for nostalgia, but you have to admit that the amount of genre/exploitation films released for wide distribution in theaters has been on a steady decline since the invention of VHS. LIONHEART, DOUBLE IMPACT, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, HARD TARGET, TIME COP, & SUDDEN DEATH all had theatrical releases in the 90’s, at the very least the majority of them would never see a theatrical release today. They would only be released on VOD & DTV.

  28. I’m not really sure what the decline of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s career has to do with the supposed dearth of theatrically released splatter pictures, but I guess I’ll take your word for it.

    To bring it on home, I recently read a book called THE DAWN PATROL by Don Winslow, and I liked it a lot. It was about brotherhood, loyalty, honor, betrayal, family, redemption, tacos, all that good shit. The material (a fairly boilerplate murder/missing person type deal) was treated seriously but with a laidback touch that fit its SoCal setting. I’ll definitely read more of his work. I had no idea he wrote SAVAGES but it makes me even more interested in seeing the movie.

  29. Mr. M, maybe we are talking about 2 separate things or I am doing a bad job of getting my point across (it wouldn’t be the first time). I am not arguing with your point about splatter or gore films. To be clear, I was never looking at Shoot’s statement as being specifically aimed at a supposed decline in the theatrical release of splatter or gore films since the 90’s, I just assumed he was talking about the decline in the theatrical release of genre and exploitation films in general since the 90’s. I used a number of the films JCVD had released theatrically in the 90’s to help illustrate the type of genre film you used to be able to see theatrically in the 90’s that you can now only find on VOD and DTV. I could also have used HARD TO KILL, MARKED FOR DEATH, & OUT FOR JUSTICE as similar examples.

  30. Yeah, I figured we were kind of talking about two separate things. I agree that theatrical action has declined in both quality and quantity since 1996, but theatrical horror has increased in both since then. And since FDTD is both action and horror, it’s understandable that there was some confusion.

  31. You are right, sorry for the confusion. I don’t remember the 90’s being a good decade for horror films. These days there are a lot of good horror films being released theatrically and there are a lot of very talented people working in the genre. It is to the point now that the horror genre as become so big that like the comic superhero genre it has been absorbed into mainstream pop culture. The influence of the genre seems to be everywhere these days. In addition to all the great horror films being put out there is a crazy amount of media featuring zombies & vampires being released, and then you even have shows like DEXTER where the main character is a serial killer but painted in a heroic light. You didn’t see the same influence or penetration into mainstream pop culture by the genre in the 90’s.

  32. Naw, this movie is just like NBK.

    The whole thing is a media satire. The Laguna Beach kids are shot like a reality series, with a shiny, plastic and totally clean digital look. Then, we transition through a television screen into the world of the cartel, where Hayek and Del Toro each wear intentionally bad hairpieces. We switch back and forth between the two worlds, switching film stock and digital intermediary style each time until the two become one. This foreshadows and establishes the double ending. The real genius of that bit is that the ‘sad’ ending is received as ‘happy’ by O. while the ‘happy’ ending is actually more fucked up. If you follow this through to the logical conclusion, Stone is drawing a direct line from our artificial reality show culture to our cable news culture with Dennis’ mock ‘victory for justice.’

    I thought it was very clever, but I would have preferred if there was no voice over and the first 20 minutes just played out as a surf bum Tree of Life with fragments and moments making an impressionistic whole and the double ending was split up by a titlecard reading, “OR.”

  33. *The cartel starts out as a Telanova that cross pollinates with the reality tv series. Then shit gets ‘real’ in both of the fictional worlds and the cinematography evolves and grain seeps into the image. Then, in the end, we go all the way down the rabbit hole, get an ending for the cartel world AND the reality tv world (as the entire film is basically a palindrome), which is in turn regurgitated as a news story in the ‘real’ world, which remains entirely unseen in this film.

  34. I though Shoot meant we could never have a movie fuck with us the way Tarantino did in the ’90s. Advertising FDTD as a vampire movie, people in the audience were really nervous about an hour in that theyd forget to have vampires. And still when they showed up it was an insane but believable tonal shift. And then the people who didn’t know!

    Yeah, I don’t know where a surprise like that is going to come from today, but maybe DETENTION?

    I liked the second ending of SAVAGES better than the cliche gangster movie ending.

  35. I think the fact that all three of us could justifiably interpret Shoot’s statement in 3 different ways only confirms that FDTD is a special film.

    Sorry to keep derailing the SAVAGES conversation.

  36. You think that was Travolta’s real hairline? Travolta is completely bald.
    I missed Benicio too.
    Oliver Stone sold his soul a long time ago, despite his love of Dalai Lama quotes, but for a summer movie this is great brainless crap. Salma Hayek has never been better.

    My biggest problem is that I was really hoping Blake Lively got killed. She’s a tremendously unlikeable actress.

  37. I was thinking in giving this movie a pass, but after this review i might watch it afterall.

    Does anybody know if Vern is going to review THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN? I saw it last friday, and it was quite alright, much to my suprise.

  38. “I was really hoping Blake Lively got killed. She’s a tremendously unlikeable actress”

    I wonder if it has to do with her own choices for roles. She seems determined to trash her pretty girl screen persona by any means necessary. Look at her in THE TOWN. The nice girl duties went to Rebecca Hall instead, while Blake played the mega-bitch (and aparently she had a choice but went for the bitch role instead).

  39. I wasn’t even sure which character she was in The Town when everybody was talking trash about her. She was good in that role and fine (not great) in the other things I’ve seen her in. I can only assume she’s from some TV show that everybody holds against her but I haven’t looked up what it is because I seem to be doing better by not knowing who she is.

    (it’s a real show, right, not American Idol or something?)

  40. Gossip Girl. I watched the first season, which had some smart writing and a post-Veronica Mars VoiceOver by Kristen Bell, until the show turned into just another 90210 redo.

    However, Blake Lively had the worst character and did some o the worst acting in the show, so that may be partly where the backlash came from. And Green Lantern.

  41. Jareth Cutestory

    July 9th, 2012 at 6:54 am

    And even in the otherwise terrible GREEN LANTERN, Blake Lively was hardly the worst part. Compared to the girl from That 70s Show, Lively never outright irritated me like Jackie Burkhart did in EXTRACT or BOOK OF ELI.

  42. Nice to see a positive review for this one. I love Don Winslow’s books. Lately he’s been writing in a present-tense sentence-fragment style kind of like James Ellroy’s that ought to annoy the hell out of me (it sure annoys the hell out of me when Ellroy does it), but somehow the guy makes it work.

    There was also a movie of THE DEATH AND LIFE OF BOBBY Z, but I wouldn’t call it a successful adaptation.

  43. Blake Lively gets a pass from me because she was a team player on Green Lantern and ‘leaked’ some very memorable nude photos about 7 days before that film’s release. I was not impressed by her before, or since, but those iphone photos display a lot of ‘talent.’ A ‘talent’ which was oddly absent in this movie where she looked kinda…not worth 13 million dollars and a drug war with the cartel.

  44. The Original... Paul

    July 9th, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Well I never watched “Gossip Girl” but I’ve pretty much liked Blake Lively in everything I’ve seen her in. I think “The Town” was her standout performance, but she’s certainly had good performances elsewhere. I don’t get the hate, to be honest.

  45. Man, I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with Vern so strongly on a movie before. I thought this was terrible. The only redeeming qualities were the performances of Salma Hayek, Benicio del Toro and John Travolta. The script was full of awful dialogue and completely lacking any reason to care about the main characters. There was very little action, despite what the trailers led me to believe. The tone swung wildly from light-hearted Tarantino-style crime thriller to heavy-handed Michael Mann brooding drama every other scene. And the fake-out Wayne’s World ending was the cherry on the shit sundae. I remember leaning over to my friend and whispering “You think they’ll do the Scooby Doo ending next?” And that second ending was terrible! Benicio del Toro just gets away? Or goes into witness protection? Or something? It wasn’t really clear?

    What the hell was the point of this movie?

  46. I couldn’t make it past page 65 of the book. So smug and “clever.” And the idea that this story or style or characters are “savage?” No, we’ve seen much harder core.

    You think you’re bad? You ain’t nothin’! You ain’t nothin’!

    I like the second ending though. You think your story is all important but no, people just flitter away and life goes on.

  47. Anyone here read the book? The narration from O was the one thing about this movie which I thought was truly bad — maybe intentionally stupid, but not funny enough to make it worthwhile to do so. Was that narration (“Buddhist/BADDEST”) taken from the novel, or do we have to assume Mr. ALIEN-VS-PREDATOR was responsible?

  48. The book was third-person narration. For various plot reasons, first-person would have been impossible.

  49. Saw it.Loved it.
    It is kind of funny that so many People dont get the Brilliance of that Ending.At AICN some Morons writing Nonsense
    and whining about Stone does not have the Balls to let it end like in the Book.
    Yeah.Let them all get killed.How clever and original.In Stones Version just Elena went to Jail.All the other Criminals,
    Sadists and the corrupt DEA Agent got away,even richer than before. That is Life,and pretty Badass too.
    Or maybe it is just Ophelias last Trip, after Chons Injection. Who knows ?

  50. And of course Del Toro and Hayak are Fantastic.
    Also,the greatest Travolta since “Pulp Fiction”.At least for me.

  51. Well, I guess I didn’t get the Brilliance of that Ending then. It felt like a cop out not because of the content but because of the “no, that’s not really what happened” rewind gimmick. If they would’ve gone with one or the other it would’ve been much better. Still a good and underrated movie, though.

  52. As i undersood it,Stone gave us three Endings to choose.
    1.The all go to Hell Version.
    2.The sour Happy End Version,where not only the good Guys Survive.
    3.The twistet,fucked up “Brazil”fake Happy Ending.

    I will choose Number 2,but i also believe Shane survived at the End.

  53. Just watched it. Thought it was okay. A bunch of good characters and moments but kind of tone deaf. I mean, Stone’s what? 65? This should be a young man’s movie, but instead we got desperate “I’ve still got it” directorial choices like fucking techno music in the action scenes (It’s not suddenly 1998 again, is it?) and white-dude dreads and eye-rolling meta crap like the double ending and made-up slang like “vidclip.” I think a director with some personal stake in the current generation of disaffected young dudes could have made something a little more vital out of the material.

    The major problem is that it’s one of those adaptations that plays like a PowerPoint presentation of a book-on-tape for the first quarter, with the novel’s prose narrated over constant expository flashbacks. I’ve already read the book, I don’t need to have it read to me again and make me cringe over cutesy shit like “wargasms” that didn’t bother me when it was on the page but does when it’s read by an actress whose character seems to be way more poetic in her head than she is in her dialogue. I don’t know why adapting a novel makes filmmakers think the “Show, don’t tell” rule has been repealed. You gotta use the tools of your own medium to dramatize the interior stuff without resorting to just explaining it to me or you’re not really doing your job. Chon is a soul-dead vet with PTSD? How about you let me figure that out for myself through, I don’t know, scenes? Drama? Acting? Etc? I think the overall situation, the complementary dichotomy of the two men and their approaches to life, society, and conflict, would have been intriguing to suss out piece-by-piece on my own, not explained to me in one long expodump (slang word I just made up for “exposition dump” because I am hip). If you can’t find a way to get a story’s themes and backstory across in a cinematic manner, maybe it shouldn’t be a movie.

    Also, the ending is horseshit. The first climax is from the book, and it’s not brilliant or original, but it’s right. The world’s gonna tear their little triumvirate apart, so better to nuke the site from orbit and go out on their own terms. This post-modern shit is just insulting.

    Also also, O says the first ending was her fantasy. But she didn’t know del Toro was a snitch, so that whole shootout made no sense coming from her.

    Also also also: Worst. Snipers. Ever.

  54. Mr M — I think the movie is (possibly) satire about these dumb, violent, rich, self-absorbed white people who are it’s ostensible stars. Of course they’re going to over-narrate their own story, they’re compelled by a deep-seated need to overshare. Of course they’re going to think they’re more poetic than they are. Of course they’re going to be completely dispassionate about horrific violence until the first second that it makes them even slightly less comfortable in their own lives.

    I just don’t buy that Stone is rooting for the white kids (particularly since he obviously knows that his “villains” are some of the most charismatic actors working today, juxtaposed with the completely bland “heroes”). My theory is that SAVAGES is Stone’s film about the 00’s in the same way WALL STREET was about the 80’s, BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY was about the 60s, and so on. It just never breaks character, trusting instead that you can judge these morons based on their actions, not side with them just because the film tells the story from their perspective.

  55. I’m not sure I buy that, Mr. S. Stone is never going to side with Walmart. He might be about as establishment as they come, but he still sees himself as a rebel and an outsider. Obviously, there’s some satire in here, but it’s Stone’s usual scattershot approach, just throwing a big old mess at the wall and blaming you if you don’t think it’s Jackson Pollock. Which is fine, I guess, when that’s the point, like NBK, but I’m not sure I know what the point of his interpretation of SAVAGES is. If it’s supposed to be satire, satire of what? These kids who made a good product and just wanted to continue owning it on their own terms while using their success to help out the less fortunate? What the hell is wrong with that? What, Stone’s precious hippie generation is the only one that gets to stand up for something without getting shit on for it?

  56. I think the satire revolves around how the movie frames the protagonists as heroes even though they are every bit as violent and amoral as the antagonists are. My take is that the whole thing is about the veneer of civility Americans are able to maintain and even believe about themselves simply because they’re rich and comfortable. O and Chon don’t give a shit at all about watching the Mexicans getting tortured and dismembered in the video at the beginning, but when their own life is affected they’re willing to get as dirty as it takes to maintain their life of comfort. That’s why the movie is so quick to bring of the War on Terror that America has been viciously fighting for more than a decade now, out of sight and away from our daily lives. We’re every bit as savage and brutal as anyone, it’s just that we have the luxury of not looking that way. The movie applies just a little bit of pressure on our rich white kids and finds just how quickly they’re willing to get medieval to keep what they want.

    I wrote about this one a little while back if you’re interested in a longer explanation… http://wearecursedtoliveininterestingtimes.blogspot.com/2012/07/savages.html

  57. I get that, I suppose, but it kind of destroys the crucial conflict between the two heroes, doesn’t it? It’s not true that they both ignore violence until it’s happening to them. Chon knows firsthand exactly how violence infects your life. He tries to wake Ben up to his way of thinking, but the point is that neither of them is 100% right. Ben was an idiot for thinking that they could just walk away without bloodshed, but Chon was an idiot for thinking that he could win a war against a fucking cartel. That’s what the story’s about: two differing points of view and the empty vessel of a woman who accepts them both. If they’re all supposed to be equally clueless American youth, then what’s the point?

  58. Weird as it is, I think the movie clearly sides with Chon. He’s the only American who isn’t in denial about his own violent nature, and indeed, he gets his way, things get violent, and they *do* end up winning. Ben barely even gets a chance to preach nonviolence, and quickly becomes a sidekick once the chips are down. They’re all savages, it’s just that Ben wants to pretend he isn’t, and while he’s a rich American living on the beach, he can. He has to learn the hard way what Chon already learned in the war: there isn’t much you won’t do to protect your lifestyle. It’s a lesson Elena and Lado were forced to learn a long time ago, which initially gives them the advantage. And it’s an important lesson from Stone’s perspective, because it forces us to be a little more honest about the kind of hypocrisy the modern American life affords us, and offers a glimpse into how things might look if our comfort started to slip, even a little bit.

    Now, as to how are you supposed to identify with the insipid entitled white kids that are the apparent heroes here, I don’t know. Stone doesn’t always seem to think you need to identify with your protagonists, and I’m iffy on how right he is about that. It’s interesting to watch a movie which asks you to root for amoral douchebags, but not always as satisfying as you might like.

  59. “and they *do* end up winning.”

    I do not accept the double ending. That’s a DVD special feature, not a legitimate film climax.

  60. It is one of the more head-scratching choices, I admit. I have to assume they did it just to give some reason why “O” gets to narrate over the whole thing like it’s a DVD commentary track featuring a particularly dull executive producer.

  61. I actually went to see this at the theater last Summer. I thought it was OKAY but looking back, it really was not great. The only things that, to me, saved it from sucking were Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta. I really could not get behind Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson in their roles, same with Blake Lively. Plus, I found Blake Lively’s narration to be sort of grating (Examples are the “wargasms” line and the difference in sex between Chon and Ben). Blake Lively is a pretty girl and while I can respect her for trying to get out of the image that she has of playing the pretty girl in movies, I really don’t think she was right for the role in this movie. It was like that with Anne Hathaway in “Havoc.” However, “Havoc” was a worse movie than “Savages.”

    Plus, the ending ruined the movie for me. It didn’t help that an out-of-place ELO song was played in the background.

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