After reaching the pinnacle of his career in the late eighties/ early nineties, Oliver Stone, the illustrious director of Platoon, Natural Born Killers and Wall Street, attempts to recover from a succession of disappointments. Though his latest film teases audiences with restoring the unflinching bite and controversy that made his previous films so successful, this ill-conceived and empty tale of drugs, sex and criminality is worlds away from what Stone is capable of.
On the sunny shores of Laguna Beach, two young and carefree entrepreneurs, Ben, a former Navy SEAL and Chon, a peaceful botanist, grow the best marijuana in California and love their shared girlfriend Ophelia. But, after they spark a rivalry with a notorious Mexican drug cartel, their carefree existence is turned upside down as Ophelia is kidnapped and they find themselves facing off against ruthless and relentless criminals.
Conceptually at least, Savages is an ambitious project that initially fools you into believing Stone will offer an intriguing exploration of identity, friendship and moral ambiguity, when in fact it rapidly descends into a lifeless, derivative and uninspired thriller. At the centre of the narrative is an unconventional, unconvincing love triangle, which never explains why two best friends are so willing to share a girlfriend. Regardless of Stone’s film being about as subtle as an earthquake, in this instance it would’ve certainly benefited from an additional amount of exposition.
Savages is the type of film where one iconic moment or performance would veil its hollowness and predictability, but with an absence of flair and three lead actors devoid of charisma there was little chance of that. Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson and Blake Lively bring nothing more than their marketable good looks to their poorly written roles and its therefore left to the support cast to inject energy to an otherwise turgid thriller.
Despite being far from their best, John Travolta, Benicio del Toro and Salma Hayek comfortably carry the entire film. The experienced actors’ exuberance, obscenities and overacting bring necessary dimension, humour and most shockingly empathy to despicable characters. It’s certainly a major problem for a by the books revenge thriller when the only characters worth rooting for are the antagonists.