Sunday, July 15, 2012
Oliver Stone's SAVAGES
Oliver Stone used to make tight, economical, sharply written films such as Salvador, Talk Radio, and Wall Street; they're my favorites of his. I enjoyed JFK, Platoon, and Natural Born Killers, too, but Salvador and Talk Radio remain, for me, his most powerful, fat-free films. They had something relevant to say about the soul, about the enemies within ourselves.
His newie, Savages, set in Laguna Beach (where I reside for most of the year), is a tale about two successful dope dealers, the woman they both love, and a Mexican cartel that threatens to ruin their piece of paradise. Trailers sell the film as a return to previous form for Stone, impactful, fresh, and rife with simmering surface detail. For the most part, they lie. The surface detail is there, though, and that's about it.
Despite Stone's insistence on playing with looks (hot, cold, black and white) and fabricating a 60's aesthetic in a Laguna that still exists if you squint a lot, the source material (from a novel) feels much too familiar to engage one's curiosity. Breaking Bad has been doing this stuff for four seasons, and tonight it will do it again for a fifth. Stone's biggest miscalculation with Savages is its protagonists: They're dull and cliched. One is a fella who, while not supervising marijuana crops, builds schools for the poor in foreign lands. His partner is a guy who isn't afraid to pull a gun to solve a problem. The girl they both love is a mentally delayed flower child who's a crashing bore with a hot body for two. When it seems that the three may have to leave the country in a hurry, her idea of saying goodbye to California is going shopping. Granted, this may be an authentic portrait of a certain type of Californian female, but do we have to witness such vapidity? Aren't characters supposed to be compelling? Even worse, the bitch narrates, and what you'd expect from someone whose underworked brain has turned to mush is what you get. It's nausea-inducing.
It's hard to imagine anybody concluding that the script for this should have millions of dollars thrown at it. The situations are stock, the resolution is typical, and the taste it leaves in your mouth will be familiar to anyone who's suffered through recent Stone efforts such as Any Given Sunday, World Trade Center, Alexander, and the hideous Wall Street sequel.
For gore fans, there's a recreation (without the flesh-tearing) of the video that did the rounds a year ago of two Mexican drug couriers having their heads shaved off with a chainsaw. Other than that, Savages already exists as pieces of your video collection. Best to rent Breaking Bad, a show that's achieved greatness with characters we give more than two shits about; even better, we're fascinated by their human journey, and human traits we recognize in ourselves.
I recognized people I once met but would never want to meet again in Savages. That's not a good thing.
As the far superior Cannibal Holocaust once asked its audience, this film also asks: Who are the real savages? In this case, who cares!