Oliver Stone’s Savages is a mild return to maniac form. For more than a decade, Stone has cooked up safe character studies (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, World Trade Center, W.), surefire duds (Alexander), and excellent documentaries that hardly anyone saw (Looking for Fidel, Comandante). Not since his excellent Any Given Sunday has Stone made a movie as charged as the drug drama Savages. And make no mistake, Savages is Stone flexing his madasscraziness, problem is, he’s not flexing hard enough.
Savages is bogged down with plot to a fault. There is, frankly, a lot more going on here then there needs to be. But some of what is going on here, mind you, is pure Stoneian bliss.
Take, for instance, every single thing Benicio Del Toro say and does. Lado is a scruffy, even-keeled psychopath who always keeps us guessing. And laughing. In one scene, he and Alex examine a crime scene, during which Lado sips through the green straw of his large Starbucks beverage. What’s perfect about this is that a.) We have a filthy drug lord drinking a posh Starbucks drink, and b.) We have to picture this filthy drug lord actually standing in line and ordering said posh beverage. It’s brilliant character devices like that that make Lado one of the best roles Del Toro has ever had.
Equally as crazed (or is it panicked?) is John Travolta, who plays a federal agent willing to trade info for info with Chon and Ben. Without giving too much away, Del Toro and Travolta have a scene together that is by far the best moment in the movie. It’s scary, funny, and completely unpredictable. It almost makes the film worth it.
Look, the acting across the board here is pretty solid. Those of you who have only been exposed to Kitsch’s recent John Carter and Battleship disasters (and not his revelatory work in Friday Night Lights), can trust that his Savages performance is a step in the right direction. Chon is militant, precise, and exacting, and Kitsch fleshes him out well (not great, but well). I have slightly less positive praise for Johnson (best known for his lead roles in Kick-Ass and Nowhere Boy). His Doing-It-All-For-Love drug dealing philosophy isn’t nearly as convincing as Chon’s no hold’s barred approach. It also doesn’t help that Johnson’s British accent is evident in nearly everything he says.
I’ve been a huge admirer or Blake Lively’s since her career-changing work in The Town. She’s good here, and I’m excited to see what she cooks up in the future. The rest of the supporting cast, as mentioned, are all utterly perfect.
Flaws with Savages are completely story based. At 131 minutes, it feels 20 minutes longer than it needs to be. It also switches from being wildly violent to flat out boring. Stone makes polarizing films, so if I say Savages is more like U-Turn and less like Natural Born Killers, some may take that as praise while others may balk. From where I’m sitting, Savages is an uneven film that I wish Stone would’ve made 15 years ago, when he wasn’t afraid of anything. C+