out of Five
Running time: 131
Savages has its moments and is worth seeing for entertaining supporting turns from Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro, but the dialogue is excruciatingly bad, the lead performances never quite gel and it eventually becomes clear that the flashy direction is masking a lack of substance.
What's it all about?
Directed by Oliver Stone, Savages is based on a novel by Don Winslow and stars Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson as chiselled ex-soldier Chon and brainy peacenik Ben, childhood friends who've made a fortune as Orange County pot dealers and live in a picture-perfect beach house with their shared girlfriend O (Blake Lively). When a Mexican cartel tries to muscle in on their business, the pair turn to corrupt DEA official Dennis (John Travolta) for help, but things quickly escalate after cartel boss Elena (Salma Hayek) orders sleazy henchman Lado (Benicio Del Toro) to kidnap O and hold her for ransom.
Johnson delivers an impressive performance as Ben (essentially the moral centre of the film) and largely nails the American accent, though it slips a bit in a key emotional scene. Kitsch is fine as Chon, but there's very little to his character and he's not given much to work with, while neither actor manages to generate any chemistry with Blake Lively (gorgeous, but bland), which is something of a problem, given that we're supposed to believe they'll do anything to get her back.
That said, the supporting performances are a lot more fun, particularly Benicio Del Toro (sleazing it up like there's no tomorrow) and Salma Hayek, who brings some interesting layers to Elena and ends up making her, perversely, the most likeable character in the film.
The main problem with Savages is that the entire film is saddled with a relentless and deeply irritating voiceover by O that contains some of the worst dialogue you'll hear all year; sample moments include “I had orgasms, Chon had WARgasms” and “Ben was the Buddhist, but Chon was the baddest”. On top of that, the central relationship fails to convince and feels disappointingly underwritten, all of which feels like a lost opportunity, given its unconventional nature (a loving, three-way relationship that apparently works).
Stone's direction is typically loud and flashy and there are a handful of enjoyable scenes, but the film more than outstays its welcome and it quickly becomes clear that the noisy direction is masking a lack of substance. As a case in point, the film is surprisingly tame in the sex and violence departments and, disappointingly, refuses to explore either the central relationship or the bromance angle between Chon and Ben; it's also let down by a gimmicky ending that's meant to be clever but ends up being annoying.
Despite its entertaining supporting performances, flashy direction and a handful of decent moments, Savages is ultimately something of a disappointment, thanks to unlikeable characters, a central relationship that fails to engage and some truly atrocious dialogue.