…and the quest to see everything

Guess We’re Living Like “Savages.”

Adapted from Don Winslow’s acclaimed pulp novel of the same name, Savages’ occasionally changes from black and white to glaring, grainy 8mm-like colour, worrying me that it is as visually schizophrenic as his better movies. And I understand why Stone chose this reliable technique in depicting the ocean’s waves slapping the rocky shore and the character watching the waves, Ophelia or O (Blake Lively), the latter venerating closeups as the epitome of the blonde Californian bombshell.

O has the same amount of passport stamps, credit limit and invisibly rich parentage as Lively other famous character, Serena van der Woodsen, but she attempt on range by playing O, just like her characters in other movies, as trashy as she can. She narrates playfully, that quality mixed with what I assume are director Oliver Stone‘s notes telling her and the younger half of the cast that “You’re stoned. Tone it down a little!” which hampers whatever life they could have injected – oops, wrong drug! – into their characterizations. She is 33% of a business cooperative/bigamous arrangement that also includes Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson), all three of them based in Laguna Beach. The two men are similarly passionate with their weed business, O and sharing the same muscular body type.

But as O insists, they’re different and she needs their opposites as a guiding influence for her or something. Ben is a loving botanist, Chon is the no-nonsense payment collector. Chon thinks that Buddha is a ‘fat Chinese guy’ like every tenth grade drop-out does, Ben corrects him and practices Buddha’s teachings. And most importantly, Ben makes love in the spirit of mutuality, Chon fucks while he’s in some vampiric state.

Now here’s my question or set of questions – why is O tolerating this from Chon? Why is Chon having sex with her without eye contact? It’s the hair isn’t it, his buzz cut more aesthetically pleasing and less pungent than Ben’s annoying Rastafarian dreadlocks. Let me tell you, hair is not a good enough reason to have sex with a guy as if he’s some gay for pay prostitute having sex with a man twice his age and weight. And white guys with dreadlocks are the kind of men you avoid in a Bushwick party, but Johnson accomplishes a Samson-esque feat in making them look attractive. During and after sex O looks like she can never smoke enough weed for the pain on the inside part of her belly button piercing to stop. She proves nothing about her love for Chon or Ben for that matter other than her saying it. She should have just friend zoned the guy or at least admit that she sleeps with both of them to keep the peace instead of pretending that she actually loves them equally.

After Ben and Chon’s failed negotiations with Mexican drug lord middle management (Oscar nominee Demian Bichir) and a shopping mall scene that tries too hard to make Blake Lively seem like Danielle Darrieux, both call each other the titular savages, reminiscent of that musical segment in the Disney version of Pocahontas. The middle management’s boss, the Reina Elena (Oscar nominee Salma Hayek) decided to use a henchman named Lado (Oscar winner Benicio del Toro) to kidnap O.

This event becomes the turning point where some characters get more compelling. Elena has a daughter, Madgalena, who shares the same mall with O, but Magdalena rolls her eyes while talking to her on the phone while O actually wants to talk to her. She becomes maternal, while her amoral pragmatism calling O’s ‘needing my independence,’ lost rich free love white girl BS. She might make a better evil queen than Julia Roberts or Charlize Theron, playing Elena with enough camp to sustain the comparison to equally veteran actresses.

On the other hand, Ben and Chon use their differences to guide them. Chon has had tours of  duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and uses that experience to help get O back from Elena’s cartel. Strangely, Chon speaks as if he is a jihadist instead of fighting them. Ben’s Eastern ethos loses to Chon’s urgings to become just like latter’s past and present enemies, and watching the former transform from altruist to criminal is seamless. But let’s look at it this way, this is a story burdening Elena with the onus to prove that she is compassionate while giving Ben and Chon as much leeway into ruthlessness. As if stooping down to her level is punishment enough for both.

This all adds up to a double standard but there’s something fascinating with these characterizations, or enough to latch on to, even if the ending comes too late and too terribly. John Travolta and Emile Hirsch also appear in supporting roles. 2.5/5.

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8 responses

  1. Good review Caz. I had a good time with this flick but there also felt like something more should be coming of this material. For some reason. Stone just never lets this material get as crazy as it should, which is a real surprise because this is the guy who did Natural Born Killers for Christ’s sakes! He must be getting softer in his old age.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:07 pm

  2. yaykisspurr

    You make a compelling plug for the movie through that characters that is just fascinating! It’s really not my cup of tea but it’s fascinating to read about. Cheers.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    • Thanks! Although those two characters, who are my favourite ones, are well defined, I wish that was the case for everyone else. I wonder why it`s not your cup of tea though. Is it the violence and the sadism?

      July 26, 2012 at 3:44 pm

      • yaykisspurr

        Well to be honest I’d probably see every movie ever made if there were people in my life who’d go with me. As I have to pick and choose I’d say it has to be the drugs that turn me off. Maybe I’m a control freak or just not into having fun but weed just isn’t for me. As it is though your review was a great read.

        July 26, 2012 at 3:49 pm

  3. Good review. I enjoy your style. Loved the bit about the hair…

    July 26, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    • Thanks. I saw your bit about Benicio del Toro’s hair on your blog. Because of this movie, future generations are so going to make fun of us.

      July 27, 2012 at 1:55 pm

  4. Ha. Naturally the entire in theory unwieldy conversation your drop in there about sex just makes this write-up for me.

    I really liked SAVAGES, probably the most fun movie I’ve seen all year and I’ll disagree with you that O needed to prove her love because it doesn’t work like a character study for me, expressly. And even when it is, they’re so obviously young in over their head youngsters who pretend they’re cooler than they are so they stay together just to appear bohemian and free….are they really? Who knows?

    August 5, 2012 at 9:04 am

    • I disagree with the fun part. It felt too long and the ending killed me in the worst way.

      Or at least Johnson and Kitsch love her more than she can love them. Although what makes her character interesting as a kidnap victim is that she can easily change allegiances like that. There was a point in the movie when I thought she would become one of Elena’s henchweman.

      August 5, 2012 at 1:04 pm

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