Oliver Stone’s weed-fuelled crime caper Savages (2012) is probably the US director’s best offering since 1999’s Any Given Sunday, but after a thirteen year period of churning out substandard and forgettable efforts such as Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), World Trade Center (2006) and the deplorable Alexander (2004), Stone bares all the hallmarks of a filmmaker whose best years are well and truly behind him.
Savages is not a bad movie by any means and if it had been made by a relative newcomer it might be regarded as a promising addition to a burgeoning career. However, not only is Stone capable of better, but you also get the distinct impression that he’s no longer the ‘Comandante’. Once upon a time, he could dictate and make the films he wanted to make, but these days Stone resembles an old gun for fire who has to succumb to studio pressure regarding casting and script.
Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) are two marijuana growers making millions selling their high quality hashish in Laguna Beach, alongside their sexually liberal concubine O (Blake Lively). Unfortunately, their product is deemed so good that a Mexican cartel headed up by Elena (Salma Hayek) wants in on the action. After Chon and Ben fail to come to an agreement with the gang, cartel enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro) is dispatched to ‘encourage’ the pair to change their minds.
Kitsch and Johnson are solid enough without being stretched and considering the bad press they’ve received for their respective role in John Carter (2011) and Anna Karenina (2012), it’s good to see them in more suitable shoes. Lively is sexy and seductive as free spirit O but she lacks gravitas, and the longer the film goes on the more her star fades. She also narrates the film (as she did in popular TV series Gossip Girl) which is both distracting and unnecessary. The pick of the cast are Del Toro – clearly having a whale of a time playing the unhinged, moustache-twitching killer – and John Travolta in his extended cameo as double crossing DEA Agent Dennis.
Savages is a fun flick that will keep you mildly entertained, but the script is flabby, the feature itself about 20 minutes too long and there’s little dramatic tension to speak of – mainly due to the fact that it’s difficult to get emotionally invested in the characters. You won’t feel aggrieved when the credits roll, nor will you feel satisfied – more’s the pity. If Stone has any desire to be relevant again, he needs to pull his finger out and choose his projects a little more carefully.