6 July 2012 | cadillac20
Entertaining, If A Bit Lackluster
Oh, Oliver Stone. There was a time when Stone was a gigantic name in cinema. When a Stone movie came out, you knew what your were getting. But in the past several years since Any Given Sunday, things have changed. Where a new Stone film was something of an event, Stone being one of only a couple handfuls of directors who were really recognized in major cinemas, now we get films from the director that are fairly forgettable. Alexander, World Trade Center, W., Wall Street 2. These films all have one thing in common: mediocrity. Sadly, Savages can get added to that list. Now don't get me wrong, it's an entertaining film, but it's also wholly forgettable.
Firstly, I will say that Stone is still a master of the craft. Savages is directed with purpose and Stone brings out the best in his actors. But it's the story he's working with that never really shines. The film feels a bit slow. There's never any real tension involved, even if it isn't all that predictable. When we expect that there should be more action, the film barely has any. When we expect that we should anticipate more envelope pushing, the film shy's away. Where I expected to wince, grip the edge of my seat, and wait in anticipation of the next event, I found myself somewhat lulled by the lack of anticipation and tension. It really just does not exist, which is sad, because this is a film that had a lot of potential to be very exciting.
Now, I realize this is based on a novel, and having not read it, it's possible the film plays out the way the novel does. And we certainly get some great scenes and actors out of this. Our leads are likable, particularly Ben. Yes, they're criminals, but you never really feel like they're trying to do any real evil. In fact, Ben is such a likable guy that when you see what he inevitably has to do, you don't want him to make those choices, even when he has to make them. Chon is played almost polar opposite, and it works just as well. Even though he's cold and brutal, he's still likable in his loyalty to his friends and his realism. He's not the nice guy Ben is, but he's definitely the second half you know both Ben and O need. I'll get to O in a minute, but both Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch, two of the three youngest of the cast do a respectable job in their characters and are enjoyable to watch as they feel like a real family, much less friends. The rest of the cast bring their A game, with Travolta playing a dirty cop and Benecio Del Toro playing up his brutal, yet laid back enforcer. However, the truly shining star here is Salma Hayek, who gets the best character. Hayek's Elena is the most well rounded character, showing the sides of a brutal crime lord, a woman who still seems like she needs to prove herself while being surrounded by men, and a vulnerable mother who both wants a relationship with her estranged daughter, yet is proud to see her shun the family business and build a life of her own. It's a complicated role and Hayek excels in it.
This brings me to the one, glaring issue: O. Now, I like this character to an extent. As played by Blake Lively, she is a great anchor between the two lead males. However, she plays the character so inconsistently that I couldn't really get behind her. For one thing, throughout the entire film, we had to listen to her monologue and voice over the events going on. I don't mind a little narration here and there, but there's far too much and none of it is all that fantastically written. O is also an inconsistent character. She seems fairly level and grounded early on, but once she's kidnapped, we find her a whiny, rich brat making demands. She also seems to accept her situation a little too graciously. Of course, she's also treated with quite a bit of hospitality. Now, I don't know what other people's idea of the Mexican Cartel is, but the civility demonstrated here is not nearly as brutal or frightening as I'd expect it to be, especially in a film called Savages.
Of course, the worst criminal here is the story. Now, throughout it's decent. It's entertaining and there are a few, scattered exciting moments, but for the most part, it lacks tension or suspense. This is a film about the Mexican Cartel. The Cartel is one of the most ruthless criminal organizations operating on the continent today. And yet, I never truly felt our characters were in real danger. I was never entirely that scared for them and even Del Toro, who is certainly intimidating, comes off as vulnerable. I like Chon and Ben, but I don't really buy that they would have the kind of sway they had with the Cartel and I feel like there could have been a lot more tension involved here. There's also one massive issue in the final 15-10 minutes. I won't spoil it here, but suffice to say, it's a massive eye roller and it really does sour the entire experience a bit. It's not the deal breaker I think a lot of people have made it to be, but it is fairly glaring and really unnecessary.