Savages (2012) – 4/5

Flawed, clumsy, poorly cast, and inappropriately paced film that is nonetheless interesting and pretty fun to watch despite the occasional lazy or otherwise misguided writing/directing on display. It’s a testament to Oliver Stone’s genius that even something half-assed from him is likely to be more interesting than most of the other stuff released in a given year. The man is just a good, solid director, even when he’s not quite on the ball with it as he is here.

The film is a mess, don’t get me wrong. The biggest issue is the pacing: it’s too slow. Scenes just don’t flow as quickly as they should, which is a serious problem given the frantic nature of the story. This is supposed to be an action thriller: cuts are supposed to be quick and chaotic, or at the very least have some intensity to them. But, save for a few scenes, they don’t, and everything feels very drawn out as a result, almost like a standard drama. Very odd. And the silly music they splice into what are supposed to be very serious, grim moments didn’t help matters either. The whole soundtrack to this movie is ridiculous, come to think of it. It’s almost as though Stone and co. were deliberately aiming to make this film look and sound as silly as possible, but, to our good fortune, weren’t entirely successful.

The story is a bit of a mess too. Some of the decisions our main characters make are just plain dumb, especially the one where they **SPOILERS** decide that stealing 3 million dollars from the extremely violent cartel that just kidnapped Blake Lively would be a good idea. Didn’t you just spend the first 45 minutes of the movie establishing how important Lively is to you? Why would you be so stupid as to endanger her life for money you don’t even really need in the first place? To “strike back” at them? But then why did you wear masks and deny any involvement? And given that they just kidnapped the love of your life and know you’re feeling vengeful, wouldn’t you be their top suspect in any strike delivered against them, especially given their discovery that the deed was done in a military style manner and one of you is a former marine? **END SPOILERS** I didn’t get it. It’s a cool scene, don’t get me wrong, it just felt more like an excuse to put an action scene in the middle of the movie than a legitimate attempt to logically move the story forward.

The acting too is worth mentioning. Taylor Kitsch is surprisingly not terrible here, actually managing to show some charisma and skill every now and then. And Lively isn’t terrible either, merely okay. And Benicio Del Toro gives arguably the best, most strangely hilarious performance in the entire film. Aaron Johnson, though, the guy who plays the more passive of the two drug dealers, is terrible. Not sure who he is or where he came from, but man can the guy not deliver lines for the life of him. He gets slightly better as the movie progresses, but almost every scene he’s in that requires him to be the center of attention is terrible. I don’t know if he’s actually a decent actor who just had an off role here or what, but judging from what I saw here, they’d have gotten a more convincing performance out of someone they randomly pulled from the street than this guy. A terrible, terrible actor.

Overall, I liked this film despite it’s many, many flaws. And I haven’t even mentioned the ending, nor am I going to other than to so say, “whaaaaaaaaaaat?” Not sure what was going on there. I guess Stone was trying something new with it? Not sure. I admire his guts, though, despite it being completely unnecessary. But whatever. To be honest, I’m not sure why I enjoyed this thing exactly. I guess the film is good almost in spite of itself; it’s interesting and engaging and has enough action/violence to keep things from ever getting dull. The violence especially is some of the most brutal and stomach turning I’ve seen in some time.

It’s definitely Oliver Stone-lite, though, and only a few scenes here and there truly remind you of the filmmaker he once was. Stone feels watered down here, restrained, as though afraid of pushing the envelope lest it alienate too much of his audience. And that’s a shame, cause Stone is often at his best when he’s at his most experimental. A decent film. Deeply, deeply flawed, but interesting, entertaining, and worth watching. But it’s not for everyone.

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    • Susan
    • August 4th, 2012

    Wow, this is actually the first I’ve ever read about Aaron Johnson being terrible in this film, or even being called terrible at all. From what I’ve read, heard and seen, Aaron’s actually one of the best parts in the film. My opinion as well after seeing it. Did you even pay attention?

    • No, I didn’t; I had my ears plugged and my eyes closed for the duration of the film. Either that or I just disagree with you.

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