Savages Movie Review: Who Knew Drugs Were So Boring?

Movie: Savages
Dir.: Oliver Stone
DVD Release: Nov. 2012.

Imagine a scenario: Your beautiful girlfriend has been kidnapped, and a man in a scary mask has just contacted you via Skype. His demands for her return? He says you must write a movie about drug cartels in 24 hours.

The above scenario is the only possible explanation I can think of to explain why Savages had such an awful script. I went to it hoping to be given insight into the dangerous, illicit world of drug trafficking, only to see a movie that was little more than pure Hollywood fantasy. The most beguiling part is, three people are given writing credits for Savages–director Oliver Stone is one–and yet it seems clear none found the time to actually research the business of making people high.

The story begins in an idyllic, New-age, yuppie setting: three young people are living together, smoking pot constantly, making love in jacuzzis, and having long, boring conversations about Buddha and the Iraq War. Two are drug dealers. Chon, played by Taylor Kitsch (star of John Carter), is an Iraq War vet who apparently only went overseas to score marijuana seeds. According to the movie, the best pot grows in Afghanistan, although it is never explained why, leading me to believe Oliver Stone and co. simply wanted to connect the drug trade with the war in the Middle East somehow. Then there’s Ben, played by Aaron Johnson, who’s the Yin to Chon’s Yang. He’s a peace loving, Buddha quoting, dreadlocked stoner with a messiah complex. Ben and Chon share one thing in common: they’re both terribly, terribly boring. Then there’s O., played by Blake Lively, who completes this menage-a-trois (literally meaning “house of three”). What does O do? As far as I could tell, nothing.

Ben and Chon hardly stay below radar once they start slinging the purest weed on the West Coast, and it doesn’t take long for them to attract the attention of a Mexican cartel run by a woman named Elena (played by Salma Hayek). Elena has as her right-hand Lado, played by Benicio Del Toro. As a middle-man, there’s the crooked DEA agent Dennis, played by John Travolta. In the case of Savages, I found myself rooting for the bad guys, mainly because they were the only ones giving interesting performances. The less screen time given to Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, and Blake Lively the better.

The action gets rolling far too late in the movie when O. is kidnapped by the cartel. I had hoped this is where it would finally become exciting. Wrong. The guys are given five hours by Elena to complete some errands around California, or else the girl gets it. Surprisingly, there’s no sense of urgency. Ben and Chon talk about wanting to save O. at any cost, yet continue to talk, walk, and react slowly. While the clock is ticking down, they even engage in inoccuous banter with peripheral characters. Once they complete their errands, they’re given another timeframe, and another, and another. It’s painfully clear these constant countdowns are a way to generate some sense of suspense, but it’s hardly effective, as it seems the guys always have just enough time to do everything at a slow and steady pace.

As the movie goes on, Oliver Stone’s liberal agenda is never entirely clear. He plays a long game of moral equivalences, where he compares the actions the Americans take to save the girl to the actions of the bad guys, and has a glib way of pointing out the irony. The problem is, this is no way for a liberal to make a good point. When it comes to finger-pointing and moral blackmail, there’s not much option for an actual productive discourse. In the end, Savages is little more than stoner-porn.

Plus, Savages makes a fool of itself by overlooking many of the big isms: sexism and racism in particular. I was quite shocked by the way Blake Lively’s character is depicted first as a complete ingenue and later as a damsel in distress. Ben is the brains of the operation, Chon is the muscle, and O. does absolutely nothing. Later, when she becomes kidnapped, she makes no real effort to free herself, and instead waits for her men to show up. To make the case worse, the only reason why she’s kidnapped is because she found it necessary to go to a mall. Throughout the movie, she complains of little things like only being given pizza to eat instead of salad, and having to go for a week without stimulants. Meanwhile, while the American drug dealers help the community and donate some of their profits to charity, the Mexican dealers are depicted living in a world of complete decadence.

The only thing that redeems Savages at all is Benicio Del Toro’s wonderfully sleazy performance as a mercenary whose allegiances are never clear. It’s unfortunate he had to give such a good performance in such an awful film, especially since Benicio Del Toro doesn’t make films that often.

What’s most unfortunate about Savages though is that it’s directed by Hollywood’s most outspoken liberal, Oliver Stone. Not only does he make an ass out of himself (as he’s done so many times before, i.e. Alexander), but he makes an ass out of the Left as well. I wish we could simply disown Oliver Stone at this point. Many liberals wish to point out that our views are grounded in logic and compassion, not snide finger pointing and trite moralizing. So Oliver Stone, if you really want to help the liberal movement, stop making movies.

 

Check out my books The Madness of Art: Short Stories and A Rapturous Occasion.

What was your opinion of Savages?

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