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Universal / 2012 / 130 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: November 13, 2012
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Reviewed by Aaron Peck
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
'Savages' is a dull gangster/drug lord flick that can't be salvaged, even though accomplished director Oliver Stone is at the helm. Usually Stone picks projects with a little more meat and controversy on their bones. Here it seems he's taken an utterly banal subject and switched the movie on cruise control for two hours.
O (Blake Lively) is at the center of this story, which is based on a novel written Don Winslow. O is at the center of an odd love triangle between two best friends who don't care if they share her sexually. O insists there is deep, endearing emotion passing between the three of them, but all we see is that they really like having sex with her whenever they possibly can. O has disillusioned herself into thinking that these two relationships actually work, and the source matter has disillusioned itself into thinking that we'll buy into it.
The two guys in O's life are the marijuana kingpins of California. They've been able to create and cultivate a strain of plant that contains oodles more THC content than any of their competitors. Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is the muscle of the duo. Ex-military, Chon beats in heads and keeps the business floating by weeding out the nefarious elements. Ben (Aaron Johnson) is the brains of the operation. He graduated in botany and suddenly became the super scientist of all things hemp.
Everything is going great, until a large Mexican drug cartel wants to partner with them. Only this partnership is kind of mandatory. If the guys don't agree to it then they'll simply be wiped out.
As if the whole three-way relationship between Ben, Chon, and O wasn't enough, the movie throws another unbelievable curveball at us with Salma Hayek playing the part of the ruthless cartel leader Elena. I'm not sure there has ever been more of a misguided casting decision as this. We're supposed to believe that Hayek is this all-powerful, death-dealing cartel leader, yet she never exudes any nastiness whatsoever. Oh, believe me she tries, but it sure isn't believable.
The dialogue in this movie, especially during O's incessantly pretentious voice-overs, reeks of reheated Brett Easton Ellis. Speaking of Ben and Chon she not-so-eloquently states:
"For me, together, they are one complete man. Chon is cold metal. Ben is warm wood… Chon is earth, and Ben spirit. And the one thing they have in common is me."
If you groaned a little while reading that, all you have to know is most of the movie is filled with those types of overreaching, verbose analogies.
What's really irksome about 'Savages' is that one can't watch it without saying that it's well-directed. Even with sub-par material to start out with, Stone is still able to capture a visually interesting story. It's the story that needs help. It's hard to relate to Ben and Chon after O gets kidnapped by the cartel because it's difficult to believe that they want her for anything other than sex. There isn't any real connection that happens between any of them in the film. Lively thinks her come-hither stares suffice on that front. On the other hand it's hard to believe that O is in any kind of real danger because the person holding her is one of the most implausible villains I've ever come across.
'Savages' wants to be edgy and hip, but it soon becomes old-hat as we realize we've seen this all before. Supposedly ruthless drug lords, kidnapped ladies, dirty cops, and men out for revenge. Sadly, the direction of Stone doesn't add anything interesting to pile of overzealous prose and piling clichés.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Universal release. It comes in a Blu-ray/DVD/UltraViolet Digital Copy Combo Pack. The two discs are housed in a standard size keepcase with two disc hubs. The Blu-ray is a 50GB disc. There is an insert included with the Digital Copy code on it.
This release contains both the theatrical version and the unrated version. The theatrical version clocks in at 131 minutes while the unrated version is 142 minutes. Descriptive Video Service (DVS) is also included.
No complaints here. Cinematographer Daniel Mindel delivers stark, colorful images, filled with a wide variety of experimental looks hoping to give the movie a bit more pizzazz than its dismal story offers it. The 1080p image is what you'd expect from a recently filmed movie. It's clean and free from unsightly blemishes.
Stone switches back and forth between looks in this movie. Sometimes the contrast is blown way up, other times he switches to a grainier 16mm black and white look. Most of the time he keeps it brightly colored, as the image takes on a rather steamy look under the burning California sun. Colors really burn on the screen. Skin tones seem orange at times, but everyone is so tan that it's hard to tell if it's natural or not.
Detail is all there, except during the intentionally soft 16mm looking scenes. Pores, freckles, three-day scruff, scratches, abrasions, and scars are all perfectly visible. Even mid- and long-range detail is fantastic as the perpetual summer of Southern California shines down in every scene. Palm trees and sandy beaches are distinctly evident in the background. The movie definitely reflects Stone's cinematic sensibilities and the high-def treatment does them justice.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is just as notable. As much as I dislike just about everything that comes out of O's mouth, especially when it concerns her inane voice-overs, I must say that all her dialogue is presented extremely clearly. Since she talks constantly in a deep breathy voice it's imperative that the dialogue be crystal clear.
The movie's soundtrack bleeds into all the channels, offering deep bass when needed. This movie is full of heavy action scenes, punctuated by long stretches of dialogue. Both of those different aspects of the movie are treated very well, adding up to a great sounding release.
- Audio Commentaries — Stone gives one of the commentaries by himself. His raspy voice is actually pretty engaging, but he does tend to ramble at times. He gives a lot of information about the filming of the movie like his ideas behind the sex in the movie and specifically about setting out to make an R rated movie from the beginning. He also discusses how the budget had to be tailored for an R rating seeing that they weren't going to be making huge box office numbers solely based on the rating. Stone does provide a rather interesting commentary here, explaining his choices for various scenes and looks. Even if you didn't enjoy the movie, it's enjoyable to hear an acclaimed filmmaker talking about his craft. There is also another commentary featuring producers Eric Kopeloff and Moritz Borman, novelist/screenwriter Don Winslow, executive producer Shane Salerno, and production designer Tomas Voth.
- Stone Cold 'Savages' (HD, 33 min.) — Split into five parts this behind-the-scenes making-of featurette feels a little promotional, but also gets into the meat of what it's like making a film with Oliver Stone. "Origins" discusses the novel that the movie came from, why Stone wanted to make it into a movie, and how the script evolved. "The Savages" is the part of the featurette that focuses on the casting and how Stone picked who played the parts. "Real Savagery" focuses on Stone's perfectionism and him bringing in consultants for everything in order to make the movie realistic. He even brought in a pot expert. "A Savage Set" visits the brutally hot set of the big gunfight and the dark set of the cartel's torture warehouse where one of the characters gets whipped and then burned to death. The last part, "Savage Cuts" is a roundtable type of discussion with the movie's editors talking about what it's like working with Stone and how he's completely open to ideas from everyone.
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'Savages' never really grabbed me. Blake Lively's role as O is laughable, not to mention Salma Hayek as the world's most unfrightening villain. Even with Stone behind the camera, the story and characters follow a road to nowhere, and never become interesting in any way. Sure it's got some great video and audio, but the movie leaves much to be desired. We can chalk this one up as a good disc, bad flick.
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