Savages: Does Oliver Stone redeem himself?
Coming off a string of critical busts, the once-celebrated director tries to win back audiences with an adrenaline-charged, drug-fueled, shoot-em-up pulp movie
For decades, Oliver Stone was considered one of Hollywood's most exciting and bold directors, thanks to controversial hits like Platoon, Wall Street, and Natural Born Killers. But his recent films — the bloated swords-and-sandals flick Alexander, the overly schmaltzy World Trade Center, the presidential misfire W., and the lackluster Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps — have been largely dismissed by critics and disappointed fans who are worried that the director has lost his creative touch. Stone will try to turn things around with his latest film, Savages, which hits theaters Friday. (Watch a trailer below.) The film stars Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson as pot growers in Southern California. When they turn down a partnership with a cartel run by Salma Hayek, she kidnaps the free-spirited girl that both men are dating, played by Blake Lively. Benicio Del Toro turns up as Hayek's henchman, and John Travolta plays a corrupt D.E.A. agent. Does the violent, pulpy film mark a return to form for Stone?
Oliver Stone is back: It was depressing watching Stone retreat to conventional, unexciting filmmaking with World Trade Center and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, says Toddy McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter. Thankfully, Savages "represents at least a partial resurrection of the director's more hallucinatory, violent, sexual, and in a word, savage side." He revisits the "visual and aural tropes of his creatively assaultive works of 15 or so years ago": Blood-soaked action, trippy editing, and stylistic experimentation. It's a "technically sharp" film, and Stone coaxes snappy performances from Travolta, Del Toro, and Hayek. "Savages: Film review"
Eh, he still disappoints: Savages is "violent, sultry, and entertainingly sleazy," but it doesn't pack the "satirical edge that the material necessitates," says Alison Willmore at The A.V. Club. The film suffers the same problem that plagued Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and W. — Stone is "softballing something he should be skewering — in this case, SoCal entitlement and faux-progressive hypocrisy." Travolta and Del Toro, who both give magnetic performances, are the only actors who approach the material with a sense of humor — "something the film could use more of.""Savages"
The movie is a mess… but still entertaining: The film is overly ambitious, pulpy, and too scattered to represent a true comeback for Stone, says Eric Kohn at Indie Wire. There's little emotional depth to the story, and the direction is uneven and amateurish at times. But it's still "fabulously adrenaline-charged," and thanks to enthusiastic performances and unabashed sensationalism, the film turns out to be trashy fun, with Stone managing to "deliver the guilty pleasure shoot-'em-up that the martial begs for." "With Savages, Oliver Stone turns a pulpy novel about the drug war into… a pulpy movie about the drug war"
Consensus: Savages is nowhere near the level of Stone's modern classics Platoon and Wall Street, but it's so unapologetically trashy and fun that it marks a significant improvement over his recent flops.