I know I know, here I am sneaking in at 3:00 AM with lipstick on my collar and whiskey on my breath. But it’s not what it looks like baby I can explain…
OK I can’t explain. It’s just what it looks like.
In hindsight I really should have called an official hiatus. In my defense, I didn’t plan to go so long without writing. Honestly I didn’t. Certainly there were films I wanted to write about, both big like John Carter (underrated) Prometheus (WTF) and The Avengers (Wheeeeeee!) and small like Resurrect Dead and The Red Riding Trilogy.
But I was also in the middle of writing one manuscript and editing another and every time I scraped out a couple hours to write, the sad fact is that something else took priority.
But a funny thing happened during the time I spent away. I began to miss it. For the last couple of months Things That Don’t Suck had turned into something I had to do instead of something I wanted to do. And that, as Nixon assured us “Would be wrong.”
Well I want to do it again. I miss writing about film on a constant basis, I miss having a voice in the conversation no matter how small it is. And I miss you guys reading your responses, hearing your insights. Dodging your bricks.
Alright group hug over, let’s try this again.
Don Winslow’s Savages is a piece of pulp poetry. A maniacal ultra violent near farce one moment, a melancholy requiem the next. It’s cynical to the point of being borderline nihilistic, angry, viciously satirical, laugh out loud funny, occasionally beautiful and above all it’s fucking lean and relentless. You can read it in one sitting. A novel made out of gristle.
Saying that Oliver Stone’s film is in comparison a little chunky is like saying that Orson Welles circa Touch Of Evil had a few extra pounds on him. As Stone’s bloated spectacle flopped before me the strongest emotion I felt wasn’t anger, or even disappointment, but a bone deep bafflement. Just what the fuck was this? Don Winslow’s name is on the script, what was he thinking when Stone started adding subplots and politicking turning his sleek cruise missile of a story into this ungainly ornamented thing. I have not seen an adaptation miss the point of its own source material so aggressively since Less Than Zero. I am confused by literally every creative decision made in Savages.
This is the sort of film where I don’t even know where to begin with what’s wrong with it. Sure there’s the aforementioned extraneous subplots and characters which add nothing but baggage to the story (and give Stone a place to shoe horn in his requisite Indian Fetish I guess). But there’s also the voice over by Blake Lively (not since The Spirit has wall to wall narration been this unwelcome), which sound like Stone was actually angry at his hypothetical audience when he recorded it. We could talk about the fact that Stone’s still using canted angles and lens filters like it’s the mid nineties and someone gives a fuck. There’s also the cop out ending. The way the film ignores most of the books biting black humor, contains none of its irony and sentimentalizes its deeply unsentimental tone. That would leave out the fact that the film’s gender politics are truly odious, adding in a rape scene not featured in the book that is so completely gratuitous that it is down right bizarre. With absolutely zero narrative or thematic payoff. I guess you can’t have a powerful woman character in a story without debasing a double XX Chromosone somewhere.
The real bitch of it is I can’t deny that the movie has its moments. There’s a heist scene here that is as tight and intense as anything that Stone has ever directed. There are isolated shots and scenes that are excellent. Some of the most striking images of Stone’s career are in this movie. As for the actors Selma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta all give excellent performances, with Del Toro in particular relishing the chance to be one dimensional, going so far as to literally twirl his mustache at one point in the film.
As for the younger trio that the film centers around it’s a wash. None of them are really bad, even Lively if one overlooks her voice over is only kind of bland. But they don’t have any of the richness that they did on the page. Like the film they inhabit they’ve been white washed, turned from Winslow’s venal, sociopathic and deeply haunted (respectively) creations to just some guys.
Savages is by any judgment a complete failure. As an adaptation it’s a willful misinterpretation at best. On it’s own merits it’s a piece of self parody that buries its few thrilling moments underneath bloat, vanity and some severely fucked up subtext.
To quote the book’s opening line,