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.
- Chris Jancelewicz: Review: ‘Savages’ Overdoses On Itself (news.moviefone.ca)
Normally in films the audience has to wait five minutes to suck us in, but instead Nowhere Boy ‘wows’ us in the beginning with its cinematography, and we have director Sam Taylor-Wood and cinematographer Seamus McGravey to thank for that. This is the fifties, after all. I also kept imagining the film in black and white because of the photographic quality of the shots. Yet colour fits better in capturing the bright, breezy energy of a much younger John Lennon (Aaron Johnson). The film depicts beauty without making its contemplation necessary, since the audience follows a rebellious schoolboy around his hometown at the same time.
Then comes characters with emotional resonance and dimension. John is funny, selfish and gives and gets love unconventionally. The darkness within his cheery mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) appears within her first real encounter of her son in years, as Duff’s impresses with her characterization of Julia as a broken vessel of repression. John’s aunt and guardian Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) is stern while trying to please a teenager who sometimes takes her for granted. All three powerfully contend with changing allegiances, portraying human irrationality brought on by love without making their characters seem inconsistent.
I also like how they can sometimes miss other characters’ cues. When John’s new friend and band mate Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) talks about how the latter’s mother ‘would have loved’ his music, he doesn’t at first understand what he’s hinting at. Or when Paul plays the banjo in a solemn gathering at Julia’s house. The script perfectly captures the fragmented relationships. The young (and young at heart like Julia) who have strong feeling and angry impulses, innocent, sometimes ignorant about others which, thankfully, doesn’t stop them from trying to connect with each other.
Lastly, this movie is secretly about the 80’s, or what might have influenced English-speaking culture decades later from the film’s setting, although I don’t really have enough space here to explain that. Of course, it was interesting to watch John dressing up like Elvis or Buddy Holly. The British borrow from American rock ‘n’ roll icons, and as we watch this film we remember that it shows the first stop to John and Paul’s evolution, their sound and look changing within and after their seminal band’s run.