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article imageReview: 'Savages' fails to return director to native success Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jul 6, 2012 in Entertainment
'Savages' is an ultra-violent and beautifully stylized film about killing for the ones you love that falls flat in its ability to tell a decent story.
Love and violence is not an unfamiliar combination for the Natural Born Killers director. Oliver Stone brings a particular style to the genre that is raw, artsy and affecting - sometimes simultaneously. In Savages, he explores the primal urge to protect as well as the desire to be in control. Not surprisingly, both of these result in a lot of bloodshed... but sadly not a great film.
Ben (Aaron Johnson) majored in business and botany. Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is a war vet who has done two tours, one in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. Together, they grow the best marijuana. Period. Their THC levels are 10 times the average crop's readings. So it's not surprising a cartel from Mexico is interested in a partnership. But when the pair does not give the desired response, the ruthless group kidnaps their shared girlfriend, O (Blake Lively). Only the loves of her life will stop at nothing to get her back, and the cartel underestimated what that kind of commitment can make a man capable of.
If only Lively could believably evoke that type of devotion from anyone. Instead she only ever seems mildly enthused by her lovers and stares blankly at her captors. Her narration, which follows through the whole film, is intrusive and usually unnecessary (not to mention she has a nasally voice). For a story driven by passion, she shows very little.
Kitsch and Johnson have enough chemistry to make the situation work, but they spend more time reacting to other characters than interacting with each other. Benicio Del Toro revisits the same drug-addled, cruel character he's played so often, while Salma Hayek is a little more understated in her usual Spanish drama. John Travolta is a highlight as the ambitious, self-interested federal agent always acting cool even when he's seemingly lost control.
The biggest problem with this picture is the ending. Someone refused to make a choice, resulting in an unnecessary divide. Audiences may debate what would have made the better ending, but that decision should have been made in the editing room. On the other hand, the music choices are as impeccable as they have ever been in any of Stone's films, including a slow cover of "Psycho Killer." The title is constantly redefined within the narrative depending on the speaker, though no one explanation is wholly true in the context.
In true Stone-style, the picture looks amazing. The transitions between visual styles match the emotions in the particular scene (though sometimes it implies more emotions than even the actors). The director also has a special way of depicting violence so it makes your stomach turn, which is evident in the opening minutes of the film and seconded later during the torture of an informant. The portrayal of the drug trade may not be entirely accurate, but it is straightforward about many aspects of the business (another Stone trademark).
Savages is not everything you'd hope for from the Platoon director, but it definitely carries his mark.
Director: Oliver Stone
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch and Blake Lively
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