Blake Lively, center, is not the strong female lead you want her to be.
Savages: An amusing spectacle with a boring lead actor
Under the looming threat of decapitation by a drug cartel with power and influence compared to that of Wal-Mart’s, O (Blake Lively – Gossip Girl, Green Lantern) decides to go to the mall.
This scene sums up neatly what director Oliver Stone’s (Platoon, Born on Fourth of July) new film, Savages, is about. The film seems to be a commentary on the dangers of getting mixed up in drug trafficking, a glorification of living in excess and an unconventional 21st century love story. All of this is diminished slightly by the movie’s central character, O (short for Ophelia, but she goes by O). It is hard to solely blame Lively for this. O is not only the least compelling of all the characters, but also a slap in the face to viewers anticipating a strong, female lead.
The film revolves around Lively and her two lovers, Chon (Taylor Kitsch – Battleship, John Carter) and Ben (Aaron Johnson – Kick-Ass). Kitsch and Johnson run an independent marijuana growing businesses and have achieved international fame for their exceptionally potent weed.
Johnson is peaceful, spends time helping starving kids in Africa, and Lively claims he “takes 99 percent of the violence out of the business.” (Note: a drug dealer with dreadlocks? How very non-stereotypical!).
In contrast, Kitsch is a former Navy Seal whom Lively claims takes care of “the other one percent.” (Note: An overly aggressive former soldier with a crew cut and an angry streak? How very non-stereotypical!). Lively is in a relationship with both men, which she points out is totally not weird at all.
The aforementioned drug cartel , led by Elena La Reina (Salma Hayek – Frida), seeks revenge on Ben and Chon after the duo refuses their offer to be assimilated into their drug cartel and begin growing weed for them. When threat of decapitation doesn’t work, Hayek holds Lively hostage. Naturally Ben and Chon are out to do whatever they can to get her back.
At the beginning of the movie we have Lively’s perfume ad style narration where she tells the audience that she might not be alive at the end of the movie. It’s not hard to imagine her dying though, especially since she went shopping after her lovers told her they could be killed if they don’t flee the country.
Everything from then on is a mad rush of violence, gore and sensationalism. The absurd measures the two men go are objectively ridiculous but definitely not boring. It’s easy to get lost in the fast pace of the film until you realize what they are fighting for – O. Again and again, she proves herself to be a flat character with the most uninteresting background of everyone involved.
Hayak eats up Lively in this film. Her Elena character has such great complexities – a widowed drug cartel leader who struggles to connect with her teenage daughter, despite various attempts. Hayak proves to be menacing but oddly likeable throughout the film, which is more than could be said for Lively. In the scenes the two women share together, Lively is completely lost.
The problem is that the audience has no reason to care about O. Her pseudo-philosophical narration (“I had orgasms, he had war-gasms”) comes across less as Sylvia Plath and more so a caricature of the “Annoying Facebook Girl” Internet meme. She gets what she wants and she whines. The only bitter part of her past the audience learns about is that her mother remarried and that was bad for some reason.. Lively’s character is more of a spoiled, oblivious southern California cliché than a compelling, strong, female lead.
While much of the movie glamourizes the profitable drug dealing lifestyle, Stone makes sure to highlight consequences of every action by characters in the film. If a main character kills someone for a “just cause,” there will be direct repercussions later on. This is Stone’s best achievement in the film. In a movie where all of the characters are breaking some sort of law, it’s hard to root for the “good guys” to get away with what they’re doing.
The bright colors and overexposed film technique keeps the film feeling exciting, even in scenes not involving shoot outs. The Dia de los Muertos imagery is apparent throughout the movie with the colors and various skull designs. While this works exceptionally well, Stone sometimes takes it over the edge by putting in distracting graphics that harken to Fight Club, but without the right aesthetic and taste.
A fair warning: the gore in this movie is on par with any Quentin Tarantino movie, or even The Passion of the Christ for that matter. Squeamish audiences won’t enjoy this one – the viewers are not spared from seeing exactly what happens when someone gets shot in the leg or whipped in the face.
Lively’s bland performance aside, Savages is an amusing spectacle that tries a bit too hard at times. For a film centered on weed, this movie really could stand to chill out a bit.