Oliver Stone comes with baggage. Having directed some of the most mind-boggling, yet ravenously beautiful films — Natural Born Killers and U Turn, the blunt and “stating the obvious” snooze fest W., and finally the larger than life investigations into the human condition that are JFK, Nixon and Born on the 4th of July — there is no telling what one will get from an Oliver Stone film.
Many critics have praised Stone for Savages, seemingly on the grounds that it is almost as good as Natural Born Killers. What a weird sort of praise. Seeing the film one tries to fit it to the description. It is not founded on thin air; the similarities are there, but Savages is still a very different animal. If not for anything but the fact that it is not made in the ‘90s.
Upon seeing the first trailer our interest was roused. However we voiced our concern that casting Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the main roles might not do the film any favours. We were concerned, mainly, that Lively could not carry a feature film.
Turns out that was not wrong, per se. She does relatively well on camera with a role that is nowhere as meaty as it could be. However, narrating the film she’s simply atrocious. She’s not to blame. Again, the role is thin, and the text that she’s given to voice over is awful. But she’s set up as the scapegoat, the easiest person to blame for the film not living up to its potential.
Taylor Kitsch is not outstanding either but one grows accustomed to his face, as it were, and by the end he’s forgiven for badly delivered one-liners and naive solutions for a character that could be much deeper. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is the stand-out, who, with this role along with his performance in Anna Karenina, is establishing himself as one of the most interesting young actors (and man, he’s young!) today. Salma Hayek is an excellent crime boss. John Travolta is solid but Benicio Del Toro hits the ball out of the park as the gut-wrenchingly pathetic two-faced dog Lado. Hand this man some more Oscars! Also, notice Emile Hirsch‘s name on the credit list? Neither did we, but he’s there and he’s good. As per usual.
When it comes to the script there are some flaws one cannot look past, such as the entire narration monologue, the unforgivable use of “wargasms” (as opposed to orgasms), the seemingly random use of Spanish instead of English and vice versa and the awkward ending. As for cinematography, well, there is a limit to our love for shaky camera. But then there are beautiful moments that, as best they can, take one back to the brilliance that is Natural Born Killers.
And there we come to the core of the problem. The comparison to Natural Born Killers does this film no favours. This is a story about young people in the California of today, not about ruthless, murderous, deranged individuals in love in the serial killer obsessed America of the ‘90s. It’s a trio of lost 21st century youngsters who find solace in each other and nothing else. Their three-sided relationship and how it’s not condemned at any point in the film is exciting and the acceptance of cannabis use seems very natural. Therein lies the film’s strength. Everything else is entertainment only. If the film had dared be more about its core element, rather than an ultra-violent homage to an ultra-violent film of the past, Oliver Stone might have taken us all by storm once again.
Final Verdict: Savages has potential, but a flawed script, an inexperienced crew of actors (who try, and apart from Taylor-Johnson, fail to keep up with the veterans), and a looming presence of Natural Born Killers hold the film back.