"Savages": Oliver Stone, Back on Drugs at Last
Oliver Stone is a puzzling phenomenon, but on balance we’re better off having him than not having him. While I agree with a lot of Stone’s political opinions, even at the nuttier edges, I don’t think his espousal of various left-wing causes is all that important when it comes to the goodness or badness of his films. (I can definitely live without the hero worship directed at Venezuelan despot Hugo Chávez, displayed most embarrassingly in the 2009 documentary “South of the Border.”) Overall, I much prefer Stone in his debauched libertarian pop-entertainer mode to his self-assigned role as dispenser of morality, political wisdom and conspiracy theory.
So here’s what I can tell you about Stone’s new “Savages”: Within the first five minutes you’ve got six or seven different kinds of imitation film stock (I assume it’s all done digitally these days), ranging from black-and-white, perfume-commercial shots of a woman walking on the beach to homemade Mexican torture videos, cacophonous layers of reggae and trance-pop and classical music at war with each other, and a female narrator informing us that just because she’s telling us the story doesn’t mean she isn’t dead. Adapted from a minimalist pulp novel by Don Winslow (who co-wrote the screenplay with Stone and Shane Salerno), this Southern California neo-noir with Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson as a couple of high-end pot growers who share the same blissed-out blond chick (Blake Lively) is, on its most obvious level, execrable, racist, softcore and sadistic tripe. But I’m not claiming I didn’t have a good time! “Savages” is enjoyable in a way that’s almost but not quite intentional camp; it’s like eating a dinner made by a 7-year-old, with cake for every course, interspersed with Jell-O, Pepperidge Farm goldfish and chocolate sprinkles.
After the hectoring tedium of his 2010 “Wall Street” sequel, it’s a relief to discover that the pedal-to-the-metal, balls-to-the-wall, drugged-up and lunatic Oliver Stone of “U Turn” and “Natural Born Killers” and “The Doors” is not gone forever. Note that I am cleverly avoiding the question of whether those movies are actually any good, although I will defend “The Doors” as an authentic American classic of its own idiotic sort. Like those three pictures, “Savages” takes on the chaotic underside of the social revolution wrought in America during the ’60s and ’70s, which is always Stone’s principal subject. Arguably he’s still addressing the aftermath of the ’60s in films that venture pretty far afield, like “W.” or “World Trade Center,” and while “Savages” positions itself as an up-to-the-minute fable of the new millennium, it’s very much set in the world the hippies of Stone’s generation made.
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