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Savages (Blu-Ray) Review

November 13, 2012 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Starring:

*Taylor Kitsch as Chon
*Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ben
*Blake Lively as Ophelia “O” Sage
*Salma Hayek as Elena Sanchez
*Benicio del Toro as Miguel “Lado” Arroyo
*John Travolta as Dennis

Story: Pot growers Ben and Chon face off against the Mexican drug cartel who kidnapped their shared girlfriend.

Trivia: For legal reasons, all the marijuana plants in the film are artificial. The production designers visited legal medical marijuana growers to get the details right.

Oliver Stone seems to be a divisive filmmaker, especially in his later years. Critically, he hasn’t had a lauded film since 2006’s World Trade Center, and that was lukewarm at best. Before that, it was likely Nixon in 1995. Savages is his latest, and looks to be his attempt to get back into Natural Born Killers territory (itself panned by critics, but has gained a following over the years).

Savages follows the store of Ben and Chon, pot dealers who have a fairly large corner of the market in California. They share O, a woman who claims to be in love with both of them. After they refuse to join forces with the Baja cartel, O is kidnapped and they start to work behind their new business partner’s back in order to get revenge and get O returned. To do this they have to use their resources, including a corrupt cop, to get what they want.

Savages had potential. The book was praised and this adaptation has a fairly solid cast. John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek can all bring the goods when they need to, and Aaron Johnson is a capable young actor. But something happened between the novel and the film that makes this a dull, meandering effort that has very little interesting elements. It’s not Oliver Stone’s worst, but it’s definitely not the return to form that his fans may have hoped it would be.

The first big problem is the narration from Blake Lively. The delivery isn’t too bad, but it’s hard to listen to, especially when Lively begins blurting out poorly-written lines and phrases in an attempt to sound different. These could have come from the book, they could have been written by Stone. Either way, having anyone say “wargasms” is an absolutely stupid thing to do. The narration is filled with little quirks like that. As far as the rest of the film’s script, there is also the line “botox of the heart”. So it’s not just contained to the prevalent and painful-to-listen-to narration.

The story is nothing new. The problem with a story about drugs is that there are only so many variations of drug wars to tell and they’ve all been told. The only thing Savages brings new to the table is the fact there is an odd love story in the middle of it. There’s also the fact that these people are ultimately kiling each other over marijuana. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of serious marijuana drug cartels but admittedly I’m not up to date on these kinds of things.

But a bad story or a bad script can be elevated by its performers. While Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro do well as the villains (although Del Toro is a little too stereotypical Hispanic in his delivery at times), it seems like everyone else is either not trying hard or not good enough to bring the material up to any entertaining level. Lively appears to be sleepwalking through the majority of the film (and not just because her character is stoned in half of it). Kitsch isn’t good or bad. Like so many of his major films he just appears wooden. He’s not really entertaining and he doesn’t have any real sort of charisma. This does give him a sort of every man feel but mostly it works against him.

The best performance in the film is probably Aaron Johnson. He experiences the full range of emotions here and as a pacifist who is forced into violence, I really enjoyed what he brought to the table. John Travolta is unfortunately not memorable in his role. At least with a bad Travolta performance, you can say it wasn’t dull. In this case, he didn’t bring anything to the table that any other actor could have done.

Dull is the right word to go with here. Savages had promise but it ultimately squanders it’s potential with a bloated run time, atrocious narration and a by-the-numbers plot that isn’t helped by lifeless performances. Like so many of Oliver Stone’s recent efforts, it’s regrettably forgettable.

Film: 3.5

The audio is as clear as you’d expect with the format. There was no trouble with any of the lines spoken, even people are talking over each other. While I’m not a fan of the dialogue O would deliver for a large portion of the film, there wasn’t a single moment without clarity. This film has several loud and quiet moments and they are both presented as they should be. The film is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround with options for English 2.0, and French DTS Surround 5.1, English Dolby 2.0 and English, Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1.

Audio: 8.0

It’s a brand new film on Blu-ray, so it’s obviously going to look good. However, as Battleship proved, sometimes a movie can look amazing in the format. How does Stone’s Savages fare? As it turns out, really great. The movie’s bright and colorful look are vibrant on Blu and the shots of the scenery look beautiful. Even in poorly-lit moments you can make out details. Universal has been knocking it out of the park with their blu-ray transfers.

Video: 8.0

Special Features:

Audio Commentary with director Oliver Stone: Stone doesn’t leave much time for dead air as he talks quite a bit about his film. There are moments where he seemingly talks about nothing but I found the commentary to be very informative. There’s a lot of big directors out there but not many actually take the time to do a commentary (Tarantino, Coen Brothers), so it’s nice to hear from one every once in a while.

Audio Commentary with producers Eric Kopeloff and Moritz Borman, novelist/screenwriter Don Winslow, executive producer Shane Salerno, and production designer Tomas Voth: I think Winslow’s contributions were the best on this commentary, but like all commentaries with several people, it’s disjointed and not fun to listen to.

Stone Cold Savages: The Making of the Film (33 mins): This is a five-part making-of feature about the film. The parts are labeled “Origins”, “The Savages”, “Real Savagery”, “A Savage Set” and “Savage Cuts”. All run about an average six minutes each, give or take, and aren’t all that comprehensive. Still, it’s better than nothing and it could have just been one five minute feature. I liked “Savage Cuts” the best as it deals with editing the movie, which is one of the more fascinating aspects of film making.

Deleted Scenes: Even with an Unrated director’s cut, there is still material that left on the cutting room floor. If added, this movie would have been three hours long. Most of it is just extra character development and nothing much else. There is a rather fun moment in which Chon’s dad teaches him not to trust anyone when he was a kid. Okay it’s not “fun”, but it does have some dark humor to it. Nothing worth going out of your way to see, however.

You also get previews, BD-Live features, a pocket BLU app, My Scenes Bookmarking and the DVD/Digital Copy/Ultraviolet. Overall, not as much to take in here, but fans should find some interesting information and behind-the-scenes footage.

Special Features: 3.5

The 411Savages is not a welcome return from Oliver Stone, as it's mostly a dull and lifeless effort. Even with a good transfer on Blu-ray, it's just not enough to justify wading through terrible dialogue, wooden performances and a meandering story. It's a good looking movie that should ultimately remain unseen.
 
Final Score:  5.5   [ Not So Good ]  legend

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Joseph Lee

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