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Oliver Stone sucks: “Savages”

July 8, 2012

What did I think of Savages, Oliver Stone’s adaptation of Don Winslow’s pulp-noir novel? Well, Let me just say that when the credits rolled I actually shouted at the screen, “Are you fucking kidding me?” I read the book. I know how it ends, and I know what you did to it, Oliver Stone. And what you did deserves punishment.  Like being fed slowly to the giant soft-shelled turtle that lives in front of my former place of work. The one with a 50-inch long shell and a head the size of a football. And while you wail and consider your sins against moviegoers while it devours your doughy flesh, I will dance to “Rock Lobster” by the B-52s. If I was dying of cancer, this would be my Make-a-Wish (although, the Make-a-Wish people probably wouldn’t do it…they didn’t let that kid hunt that bear). Just know, Ollie, the turtle awaits, and it is hungry (unless somebody else started feeding it chocolate cakes, in which case we may have to wait a little while).

I have never seen an act of narrative cowardice as brazen, obnoxious, and venal as the one that closed out this film. Up until that point, Savages was an okay-not-great adaptation of a propulsive novel. But then we get the ending and, basically, Stone tell us all to go screw ourselves. You know, I suspended my inherent dislike for him with this film. I thought, Sure he’s an egomaniac and an apologist for Hugo Chavez, was genuinely surprised to learn Fidel Castro’s government committed human rights abuses, and hasn’t made a good movie since Platoon. But Winslow’s nerve-jangled prose style lends itself to Stone’s drugged-out style. I went in with an open mind. And then he threw scat in my face.

Savages is a simple, efficient machine, telling a straightforward story, populated by colorful characters that keeps you glued to page as the characters fates unspool. It’s the story of three sun-baked Laguna twenty-somethings who run a boutique marijuana business, who suddenly find themselves dealing with a Mexican cartel. Ben is (Aaron Johnson) the botanist, a hippie-crunchy type who invests their profits in aid projects in the Third World and dreams of starting an alternative-energy company. Chon (formerly John, played by Taylor Kitsch) is a former Navy SEAL-turned security contractor who came back from Afghanistan with the seeds for the high-potency pot plants they grow. Chon is pragmatic to the point of nihilism, and has no long-term plans, since he really doesn’t see himself lasting all that long.

Yeah, this guy’s going to do well once the chainsaws come out…

The girl they share is O (short for Ophelia, played by Blake Lively). O is a spoiled Laguna girl with a woman-child mother she refers to as “PAQU” for Passive-Aggressive Queen of the Universe (cut from the film, but reputed to have been played by Uma Thurman). Together they make up a slightly kinky threesome and have put together a pretty successful business. Unfortunately, they  ping the radar of the Baja cartel, run by Elena (Salma Hayek in a hawt Bette Page wig) and her enforced Lindo (a be-mulletted Benicio Del Toro). When the cartel makes them an offer, they turn it down. Bad decision, since Elena promptly has O kidnapped.

Bangs are hawt…

In their desperation to get her back, Ben and Chon end up diving head-first into the type of violence the cartels have been dishing out (they don’t take chainsaws to anyone like the cartel does, but Ben’s cannabis-utopia dreams turn into a hail of steel-core bullets). At the same type, O and Elena develop a tenuous mother-daughter bond that’s only slightly more substantial the one O has with PAQU or Elena has with her own over-privileged daughter.

If you think that this scenario isn’t going to end particularly well for many (if not all) of the parties involved, then you would be right. Winslow’s book ends with a brutal explosion of violence, and serves up satisfying fates for everyone involved. And, yes, there is some tragedy. Not everyone makes it out alive, and the ones that do aren’t necessarily who you would expect.

The movie…well…Stone gives us more or less the same ending of the book…and then reveals that, no, that’s all a lie. In fact the cavalry showed up and everybody is okay now. It’s a bit like if, as the end of Saving Private Ryan, old Matt Damon turned to the camera and said, “Well, that’s the story I tell at the VFW. Actually, we didn’t run into any Germans after that and everybody went home okay. Saving me required no personal sacrifice whatsoever. And then we all went home and won the lottery. And Tom Hanks invented the iPhone.” I don’t know if Stone is lifting his middle finger to the audience or the studio or everybody, but whomever he’s flipping off, he ruined a halfway decent movie.

Derp derp derp derp.

Up until that point, Savages mostly worked. Stone hewed closely to Winslow’s novel, and delivered on the mounting tension. There are a couple of off-notes, though. Del Toro doesn’t seem to be taking his character too seriously, which is a problem, since he’s supposed to be the embodiment of the cartel’s brutality. Stone also excised several of the book’s action set-pieces, which is never a good idea.

This mullet spells your doom.

Additionally, Stone demonstrates an uncharacteristic prudishness when it comes to O. Her sexual relationship with Ben and Chon is part of the frisson that swings the plot points of the story, but Stone barely addresses this—even cutting away at the threesome that serves to seal their fates. It’s possible that Lively has a no-nudity clause, but this doesn’t explain Stone’s peculiar indifference to the character. I know Stone doesn’t like women (as evidenced by the shrill harpies he populates all of his films with), but he should understand why men desire them. This is especially important if, you know, the plot of your movie deals with two guys trying to rescue a girl. Still, none of these were fatal mistakes. No, that one he saved that one for the ending.

So, basically, screw you, Oliver Stone. I don’t know what you thought you were doing with this movie, but the turtle is waiting…

6 comments

  1. Thanks for the review mate. You’re not the only who felt this way. Ending ruined everything.


  2. Agree that it was prudish to cut away in the sex scenes, which seem to be important to the characters. Not sure if I agree about the ending, except that I hate the “trickery” of having an ending and then saying, Oh, it really didn’t happen. (It was just a dream.)

    I wasn’t entirely happy with the ending in the book, and might have preferred an ending more like the one Stone tacks on here. Not sure. Have to think about it some more.

    Oh, and I wish the film had somehow included O’s mother, the acronymic Paqu, who could have been a terrific character.


    • I would have liked to have seen Paqu as well. It would have helped flesh O out a bit, given some context to her scenes with Selma Hayak, and it would have been fun to see what Uma did with the character.

      As for the ending, I don’t necessarily mind changing it to something more accessible, but I still feel that the way Stone did it showed utter contempt for the audience.


      • Yeah, I wonder if there was some sort of dispute involving Stone, Winslow, others, concerning the ending, since the double ending was so crudely done. In a few months or a year we may have a “director’s cut” version on DVD which might answer that question.


  3. Get it together ! Savages has too be the lamest thing ever.


  4. The story itself is preposterous. I saw this movie when it came out and immediately forgot about it until the other day when my girlfriend tried to get me to watch it. I couldn’t tolerate more than 5 minutes of it before i had to find something else to do. The narrative is bland and the entire story seems like it was written by an 11 year old. The best seeds haven’t come from Afghanistan since the 1970’s and the marijuana business certainly doesn’t operate the way it’s described in the movie. That is more of the cocaine cowboy story; extortion, kidnapping, murder, and taking over rival business. You don’t have to be an expert to realize the story makes no attempt to be realistic. If you decide to write a story, do at least the minimal amount of research to make it believable. Oh and don’t hire over-actors.



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