Savages (2012)

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*. Terrible. Just terrible. I had a very hard time finishing this one, and not just because it was so long. I actually felt some sympathy for Ophelia trying to look away from the torture being shown on video while Elena commands her flunky to “make her watch.” I mean, I could relate.
*. Terrible right from the opening shot, which is supposed to be rough, handheld footage of a cartel execution but which looks very professional and staged. Note how we begin with the cowboy boots walking into the frame, for example.
*. And then . . . the voice. The voice of Ophelia (Blake Lively). Letting us know, rather awkwardly, that just because she’s the narrator doesn’t mean she’s survived to tell the tale. Thanks for the heads-up.
*. I could go on about how terrible Lively is, but the role of O (is that Pauline Réage’s initial orifice?) is so poorly conceived and written I don’t have the heart. Who could deliver lines like this description of her two lovers: “for me, together they are one complete man. Chon is cold metal. Ben is warm wood. Chon fucks and Ben makes love. Chon is earth and Ben, spirit. And the one thing they have in common is me. I’m the home that neither of them ever had.” We are also told that Ben has orgasms while Chon has “wargasms.” That’s just so . . . sweet.
*. Oliver Stone: “I cannot emphasize enough how much rewriting went on.” Dear lord. What did it look like before the rewrites?
*. Do we have to like, or even care about the protagonists in a film? Of course not. In a dead-teenager movie it’s even kind of nice not liking the raw meat being fed into the blender. Where a movie runs into trouble is when the movie wants us to like, or at least sympathize, with its characters and we can’t. And what’s even worse is when we find them repelling.
*. So here’s O. She’s a very rich kid who just wants to fuck, shop, and get high in paradise. She’s the kind of person who, while sitting on a spectacular cliffside patio looking out over the Pacific with her buddies, drinking beer, suggests that they all go out to a bar together so they can just “relax.” She’s also the kind of girl who can complain about not getting any salad with her pizza after she’s been kidnapped.
*. And here’s Chon. He doesn’t like to wear a shirt, so that we can see his cool tats and washboard abs better. He’s a vet and therefore damaged in some dark mysterious way. He’s the kind of person who decides that he’ll have to blow a cop away with a shotgun if he gets pulled over while speeding because nothing’s going to stop him from getting O back. And a dude has to have priorities.
*. And finally here’s Ben. Looks like Jesus but he’s inspired by the Buddha. He’s the kind of guy who walks abound the house at night with the hood on his hoodie pulled up. He believe in doing good in the Third World, and isn’t all about the money, man.

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*. Put these three together and you’ve got . . . a mess. A ménage à trois à la Jules et Jim or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (which is actually referenced), though the question of Ben and Chon’s relationship is left ambiguous. Ben does declare his love for Chon at the end, but this may only be bromance. In any event, the three-way should be a lot more interesting than it is. Instead it’s merely creepy. Was Stone trying to suggest a kind of decadence, or just a return to the good old days of hippie free love?
*. The leads were almost universally despised by reviewers, but the supporting cast received praise. Unearned, in my opinion. Benicio Del Toro looks absurd with his bad monster wig, and the business of always stroking his moustache is comic villainy. Salma Hayek is cruelly embarassed while John Travolta just does his usual shtick.
*. Traditional bullet-proof glass won’t stop rounds fired into it point blank from high-powered rifles. It’s not like the gangsters could just sit in there and give Ben and Chon the finger.
*. Racist? I think so. If our heroes are the beautiful savages we all know who the ugly ones are. Those Mexicans. Especially that one with the bad hair who rapes and beats his women.
*. As with the best funny-bad movies it takes itself very seriously and makes no sense at all. I particularly liked all the gangsters walking around in broad daylight with assault rifles and killing people in their cars right in the street (this happens twice). More puzzling was why O’s bodyguard follows her vehicle instead of driving with her. How effective a bodyguard can he be as her tail?
*. Most insane of all, however, is the way Chon is happy to involve Ben in all of the paramilitary exercises and rough stuff despite the fact that Ben has absolutely no experience or idea what he’s doing. What can he contribute to the team’s efforts during the heist aside from nearly fucking everything up?
*. Up until the end I was thinking this was one of the worst movies I’d ever seen. And then it derails completely. First we get one ending — a shoot ’em up where everyone gets killed — and then we rewind the video and play an alternate ending wherein everyone lives.
*. As hammy as the first ending is, I much prefer it to the second, happier conclusion. In the second ending we are returned to the self-dramatizing, self-important Ophelia going on about how the three amigos have suffered but now live a life of privilege and ease in a tropical paradise, a trio of white gods nursing their hurt while being worshipped by the natives. They live the life of savages, but beautiful savages. Beautiful and damned. It seems so unfair. I want to cry.

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