Movie Review: Savages (2012)

September 4, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Savages is undeniably Oliver Stone. It’s dark and ultra-violent; tense and explosive; upsetting yet magnetically compelling. Plus it features an awesome cast delivering knockout performances. I didn’t love it but I thought it packed a punch and was thoroughly entertaining.

Based on the novel by Don Winslow,  Savages tells the story of best friends Ben (Aaron Johnson — who is completely unrecognisable from the role that made him famous: Kick-Ass from Kick-Ass!!!) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a couple of laid back weed growers who are extremely good at what they do. That eventually becomes a problem for a Mexican cartel (led by Salma Hayek), who orders her enforcer (Benicio del Toro) to do something about it. The key to everything is the girl both boys are in love with and is equally in love with them, O (short for Ophelia — and played by Blake Lively).

It’s not a particularly mind-blowing premise, but Stone knows how to infuse each scene with his trademark intensity. There are plenty of really “full on” sequences and encounters that kept me on the edge of my seat — and sometimes all they’re doing is just talking. The film is relatively long at 131 minutes, but apart from the slightly misguided ending I found it to be thoroughly engaging.

The film is called Savages because it’s about how people, regardless of their “normal” disposition, return to their animal instincts when they become desperate. And just about every major and minor character in this gets desperate at some stage.

The performance from the entire cast is outstanding. The film’s protagonists, played by Kitsch and Johnson, are pretty good as the polar opposite best friends, but they’re practically forgotten when pitted against the powerhouse duo of Del Toro and Hayek. I haven’t seen Hayek in her Oscar-nominated role in Frida, so to me this is the best she’s ever been. Del Toro’s performance, on the other hand, was every bit as exhilarating as his Oscar-winning role in Traffic, and I do hope he gets at least nominated again at the next Oscars.

The story itself is narrated by Lively, which is a strange choice considering how irritating her voice is. But to Lively’s credit, she showed once again (following her solid performance in The Town) that she can actually act. Sure, she plays a spoiled but neglected rich girl much like her character in Gossip Girl, but she makes us believe in their unorthodox relationship.

Rounding out the cast is John Travolta, a corrupt FBI agent. It’s the same obnoxious douchebag role he is so good at (or bad at) these days (Face/Off, Swordfish, The Taking of Pelham 123, etc) but he surprised me by being unusually effective. Maybe the other actors forced him to up his game.

Oh, and Emile Hirsch has a small role as well. I think he’s great.

While Savages is undoubtedly compulsive viewing, it lacks that little extra something to lift it into the category of elite Oliver Stone films. But it’s probably still his most satisfying film in years, clearly a cut above more recent efforts such as Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, W, World Trade Center and Alexander.

3.75 stars out of 5

 

 

Movie Review: Kick-Ass (2010)

April 10, 2010 in Movie Reviews

Regardless of what I or anyone thinks of the teen superhero action flick Kick-Ass (based on the comic of the same name), one thing is for sure — I’ve never seen anything like it.

It’s so different from any other superhero or teen movie that it doesn’t really deserve to be put into a specific category.  It’s funny, insightful, crude, and outrageously violent, to the point where it has caused a lot of controversy amongst conservative groups.

Stuff that and stuff them.  Be warned about the film’s content, the over-the-top, brutal violence involving teenagers and pre-teen children, and the nasty language they use.  If you don’t like it, fair enough.  Don’t watch it.  Don’t take your kids to see it.  Advise others against it.  But please, let less uptight people enjoy it for what it is — an original, strangely poignant action film where the blood and violence is so crazy that it is obviously comical, and disturbing — but in a good way.

The premise of the film is rather straightforward.  A typical teenager, Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Johnson), wonders why ordinary people don’t help others in need, and why there aren’t any “real” superheroes out there.  So he takes matters into his own hands and becomes Kick-Ass, a masked vigilante who gets more than he bargained for when he stumbles across truly dangerous criminals (led by Mark Strong) and “true” superheroes (played by Nicholas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz).

If you think Kick-Ass is a cookie-cutter superhero parody, you’re in for a nasty surprise.  From the very first scenes where Dave gives us an insight into his life, and the introduction of Cage’s “Big Daddy” and Moretz’s “Hit Girl”, I could tell the film was going to be a lot darker and much more uncomfortable than your ordinary superhero flick.  You just don’t normally see films like this tackle the type of issues and subjects that Kick-Ass does, you just don’t see 11-year old girls use those sorts of words (!), and you certainly don’t see them slicing people up and shooting them in the head.  But these are the things that keep Kick-Ass fresh and compelling to watch.

Like all superhero movies, Kick-Ass requires suspension of disbelief, but director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust) makes the world in which the characters inhabit about as believable as it could be.

However, Kick-Ass is far from perfect.  The tone was very uneven — the mix of regular teen comedy jokes and extremely dark, unsettling violent comedy, plus actual serious plot/character development scenes made it a difficult ride on the emotional roller coaster.  Further, at 117-minutes, the film was and felt too long.  And while I liked Dave’s friends, the whole love interest subplot was lost on me.  Not enough attention was given to it (in my opinion) to make it work.

Having said that, I have little doubt Kick-Ass will go down as a cult classic.  Moretz’s “Hit Girl”, of course, steals the show, even though Aaron Johnson manages to portray Kick-Ass as a highly likable protagonist.  The truth is, the action scenes in Kick-Ass are simply phenomenal, better than most “pure” action films out there today.  It’s heavily influenced by John Woo’s films (especially the earlier flicks), and the film itself recognises this.  And I loved the tributes to classics I won’t spoil by mentioning.

Yes, Kick-Ass is confronting and unsettling and controversial.  But don’t we want more films like that?

4 out of 5 stars!