Sep 28 2012 by Ian Bunting, Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser
Crime drama Savages is legendary film director Oliver Stone’s take on Don Winslow’s novel of the same name.
JFK and Natural Born Killers helmer Stone’s output since 1999’s Any Given Sunday has been patchy at best (W, World Trade Center, Alexander) and this lightweight caper suffers the same fate.
Pot growers Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) have to face off with a Mexican drug cartel, led by Elena (Salma Hayek) and her enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro), when they kidnap their shared girlfriend O (Blake Lively).
Things don’t get off to a great start with some awful dialogue early on (“baddism” compared with Buddhism, “wargasm”).
Stone and Winslow share a screenplay credit with Armageddon writer Shane Salerno and they also struggle to fill the two hour-plus running time; nothing much happens in the first 45 minutes.
The three lead characters form a perfectly shaped love triangle that differs from the conveniently concluded fare you’d find in your average rom-com.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are name-checked but Kitsch and Taylor Johnson are no Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
As a volatile ex soldier, Kitsch doesn’t display the requisite quality of uncoiled rage and Taylor Johnson’s surfer dude is a little bland.
Lively brings some smouldering sexiness in the film’s first half but her transition to damsel in distress puts her more and more into the background, and makes her dream-like early narration (“just because I’m telling you this story doesn’t mean I’m alive at the end of it”) feel redundant.
The best and most charismatic turn comes from Del Toro’s sleazy, ruthless hired gun, although with his mullet hairdo he kept reminding me of Brad Pitt in the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading.
Hayek’s drug baroness is shouty but not chilling enough and the most striking thing about John Travolta’s performance as a crooked cop is his ever decreasing hairline.
Stone has created a strange concoction of a sunny, sweaty California setting mixed in with Saw movie-like shots of severed heads and blood splatter.
But somehow the film manages to remain an entertaining, if uneven, ride with some decent twists... right up until the last 20 minutes.
A gimmicky plot device used during the climax is very annoying, and turns what appears to be an entertainingly crazy conclusion into a cop-out.
Chances are you’ll head out of the darkness of the cinema wearing a savage frown on your face.