Reviewed by: Sophie Monks Kaufman

Once upon a time Oliver Stone’s bloodthirsty leanings created the breathless and stylish Natural Born Killers. Sadly with his latest, Savages, the same appetite has led to a feverish carousel of unoriginal adolescent fantasies.

When we first meet them, life is sweet for Chon (Taylor Kitsch), Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Ophelia (Blake Lively) who support their unconventional three- way relationship via the proceeds of a thriving marijuana business in sunny California. Their idyllic, love-centred narrative filled with bouncing light evokes the early portion of Requiem For A Dream - before the fridge-rattling and gang- banging - although ambient mood is instantly killed off by a slew of oafish characterisations.

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If you can prevent yourself from rolling your eyes at the following, you are probably a Buddhist – and therefore like Ben, a hairy hippy who just wants to soothe people’s pain with his drugs, man. His best mate, Chon, provides the muscles of the operation while simultaneously hammering the nail in Taylor Kitsch’s typecast. This year the charismatic Canadian has played a brawny civil war veteran (John Carter), a brawny Navy lieutenant (Battleship) and now, here he is as a brawny ex-Navy Seal.

If opposed to paper-thin meaningless female characterisations then you may need to take a sedative before hearing about ‘O’ – short for ‘Ophelia’, full name ‘Ophelia Sage’. I see what you did there, Oliver (‘O’ to his friends, no doubt). O is somehow the narrator and lover to both Ben and Chon. She sashays around in floaty hippy dresses smiling, shopping and being soothingly beautiful until a key plot mechanism happens at which point she frowns but remains soothingly beautiful, which is her sole function, whatever all the dither around her may suggest.

It’s hard to go into much detail about the plot, not because it’s fiendishly knotty or because I don’t want to spoil it but because it comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. Stylised flourishes like freeze frames and the use of black and white feel like a desperate attempt to distract from the whizz-bang substance-free drama. There are shoot-outs, explosions and scenes of torture but all fail to shock because rather than sitting atop a plausible structure, they appear and are then are washed away, like a toddler’s sandcastles.

The most interesting genre twist is that the Mexican drug boss is a woman, not just any woman, but Salma Hayek in a black wig with a severe fringe. Her right-hand man on American soil is Benicio Del Toro who also possesses magnificent hair. His bouffant is large and lustrous, the sort of hair you could meditate on for 131 minutes instead of, say, watching Savages.

Salma and Benicio camp up their parts to perfection aware that they are in a silly film that can hold such performances. It’s a shame the rest of the cast were not aware because leads and support cast (John Travolta, Demián Bechir, Emile Hirsch) alike march their talents off a cliff like the most earnest of lemmings.

The most telling line of the film comes when Ben and Chon are discussing whether they should believe an offer from the cartel. Chon is cynical. “Savages don’t give back,” he drawls. He’s right. Savages does not give back.

Reviewed on: 21 Sep 2012
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A pair of pot growers clash with a drug cartel after their girlfriend is kidnapped.
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Director: Oliver Stone

Writer: Shane Salerno, Oliver Stone, based on the book by Don Winslow

Starring: Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Jana Banker, Candra Docherty, Patrick Fourmy, Gary Stretch, Benicio Del Toro, Diego Cataño, Shea Whigham, Karishma Ahluwalia, Joaquín Cosio, John Travolta, Jonathan Carr, Demián Bichir

Year: 2012

Runtime: 131 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


SSFF 2012

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