It’s a long time since I found much of interest in director Oliver Stone’s work. So when I saw that he was at the helm of Savages I was going to give it a miss altogether. I was prodded into giving it a chance, however, by my mate Patrick from the wilds of Kildare. Now Patrick is, like myself, a guy who would rather say something positive about a film than something negative. He actually loves movies, which is why he’s in a job that is a million miles removed from being a film critic. I sometimes wonder if half the critics around even like what they’re getting paid for at all. Which isn’t to say he can’t tell a dud. There’s nothing worse than a complacent movie director who thinks that all he needs are star names, millions to spend on advertising, a humungous budget– and to hell with a story.
So, he says, give it a go. Tell me what you think. I was still in two minds though. I mean, life is too short to sit through endless self-important guff like The Dark Knight Rises again. Then he sealed the deal. He emailed me a review by Rex Reed.
Now, I’ve been at a stage in my life for a long time that if I ever come across a nasty review from old Rex (you don’t seek out his reviews; they’re usually sent to you by someone who hates you) then it makes me want to give whatever the bitter old trout is destroying at least a fair shake. Rex has been poncing around the world of film ‘criticism’ since I was a nipper. Put it like this, ‘way back in 1969 when Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece The Wild Bunch changed the face of cinema, Rex in his wisdom announced that it was “a phoney, pretentious piece of throat-slashing slobber”. When Peckinpah announced that he was following this with a comedy [another classic, The Ballad of Cable Hogue] Rex said with prissy disdain: “I can’t wait to miss it.”[pullquote align=”left”]That’s Rex Reed: apparently he doesn’t have to have actually seen the film—hell, it doesn’t even have to be made yet—for him to give it a bad review. [/pullquote]
Barfly? Don’t avoid it because it’s not very good. Avoid it because nobody cares about degenerate alcoholics. Which I would imagine kind of throws The Lost Weekend, Days of Wine and Roses and some other worthies out the window. The Name of the Rose? Avoid this one until they make a movie about mediaeval times for Rex where everything is shiny and clean, not dirty.
More recently he really threw a hissy fit about The Cabin in the Woods, insulting not only the film and its makers but also anyone who was stupid enough to enjoy one of the most original films of its kind in a while.
It’s long, long past time to get Rex his comfy slippers, a nice cup of cocoa and tell him he doesn’t need to get his cranky old ass out into the cold to go to those newfangled multiplexes anymore.
Which you would be right in thinking is a hellishly long-winded way of getting to a look at Savages (2012). It had to be done however, for the sake of my sanity and to prevent me from getting an ulcer just thinking about all the people who make a living by castigating anything that doesn’t fit with their agenda. (This, come to think of it, might be uncomfortably close to Yours Truly, except that I don’t make much of a living at it.)
As I say, I lost interest in Oliver Stone a while back. In fact, W. was so lacklustre that I found myself yearning for the good old days of JFK when we couldn’t understand how any normal civilians got onto the streets of Dallas, so many conspirators were there on the pavements. In fact, it was a mystery how Zapruder shot his famous assassination footage without tripping over Texan oilmen, Mafia gunmen, disgruntled Castro-ites and Commies. A lone gunman? Man, I came out of the cinema thinking that there were legions behind the grassy knoll, dozens in the book depository. It may have been stone mad, but it made for some riveting cinema and certainly didn’t bore you.
Well, Savages is a bit of a return to form. In fact I found it enormously entertaining. Afterwards you might think that it has as much substance as candy-floss, but big deal. Sometimes it’s nice to just switch off the brain for a while and go with the flow.
The lovely Ophelia (Blake Lively) narrates for us and starts off in California’s Laguna Beach where she is enjoying an idyllic existence with her two lovers, a real couple of Yin and Yang men. There’s Afghanistan and Iraq veteran and ex-mercenary John (Taylor Kitsch) on the one hand (“I had orgasms, he had wargasms”) and on the other there’s nice gentle Ben (Aaron Johnson) who likes nothing better than lending a helping hand to impoverished African and Indonesian villages. The two are best pals and have no problem with sharing the Californian beauty and she has no problem letting them. So far, so hippy happy-clappy.
Attack of the Militant Buddhists!
The only problem is that their wonderful lives are funded by the sale of marijuana so pure and perfect that it must be the stuff from The Beach. Well, no, there’s another problem about to rear a most lovely but deadly head in the shape of Elena (Salma Hayek, looking drop-dead as always). Down Mexico way, she’s been feeling the recession just like the rest of us and has her sidekick Lado up north trying to expand business. Now this scary guy is played by the brilliantly watchable Benicio del Toro and you really wouldn’t want to spill your pint on this fella. I’m not even sure if I’m talking about the character or the actor. And as if things aren’t already weird enough up pops John Tavolta with his head shaved and his eyes looking strangely close together as a Drug Enforcement Agent who’s not averse to very lucrative kick backs. The scene is set for Elena twigging that Ophelia is the weak spot with the drug-dealing California boys, so of course she has Lado kidnap her, which doesn’t turn out to be as smart a move as she thought it was. In fact Ben’s Buddhist philosophy goes right out the window. Unless, that is, Buddhists don’t have a problem with setting people on fire or putting a knife through their gizzards when they’re least expecting it. But what do I know? John has obviously been doing a bit of research:
“So I read up on your Buddha. According to the Dalai Lama: ‘If you are in a position to prevent greater violence, strike first and strike fast.’ ”
That’s good enough for me.
Now with Travolta and Salma Hayek in there, not to mention a stylised violence and a terrific soundtrack, you might be getting a bit of a Quentin Tarantino feel to the proceedings and you wouldn’t be far wrong. Especially as apparently Uma Thurman is in there somewhere also.
And here I’m going to probably make a holy show of myself; because I didn’t spot Uma at all. Either she ended up on the cutting room floor in the version I saw or I’m joining Rex Reed in his dotage. Help me out here.
With Ophelia safely kidnapped by Elena I had a horrible feeling that we were going to see some surrogate mother-daughter bonding but mercifully that doesn’t happen. What does happen is that it leads to Elena having the best lines as she talks to the rather air-headed Ophelia. (She treats being kidnapped as some kind of ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here’ contest by wondering why these Mexican hard cases haven’t given her a toothbrush and more salad instead of unhealthy pizza, when decapitation should have been the thing that was really on her mind.) When O announces that she’s the only one who can bring John and Ben together she is told:
“There is something wrong with your love story, baby. They may love you, yeah, but they will never love you as much as they love each other, otherwise they would not share you, would they?”
Having a boringly conventional take on relationships myself, I had been thinking pretty much the same thing.
Savages is scripted by Shane Salero, Don Winslow and Oliver Stone and it’s worth a look. And by the way, I loved the ending—or endings. As O puts it when she is defining the meaning of the title: “…regress back to a primal state of being.”
That’s a bit like the effect Rex Reed has on me.
[If you wish you can throw an ear, or even two, in the direction of the lovely cover of Here Comes the Sun by Yuna which closes the film Savages. It plays over the end credits.]