The following review is the unedited, marginally touched-up, copy of the review published in our column ‘Animadversion’ in Images on Sunday (Dawn Group of Newspapers) August 12, 2012. The original version is linked at the end of the post.
Dirty, Rotten, (Industrialized) ‘Savages’!
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
A few paragraphs before New York Times film critic A.O. Scott concludes his comprehensive review-cum-essay of Savages, the new Oliver Stone movie running at the end of the box-office’s top ten in U.S., he writes “You don’t want plot summary”. Way over in the Chicago Sun Times, Pulitzer winning guru of film critics, Roger Ebert, doesn’t agree with Mr. Scott’s philosophy. Mr. Ebert’s review, conclusive and praise-worthy of Oliver Stone’s return to form, decides on a telling approach. The truth is somewhere in between, stuck in negative space by the gripping sensory traffic-jam orchestrated by Stone.
For those like me, who have little familiarity with Don Winslow’s novel (which he adapts with Shane Salerno and Mr. Stone), Mr. Stone’s jarring, zig-zagging outlaw movie about industrialized pot-makers in Laguna beach and Mexico may seem more in tune with the director’s self-brewed tempestuous style than its source.
However, Mr. Stone’s evolution, though once maverick and alienating, feels stable now (possibly because of YouTube, millions of amateur filmmakers and cheap video-effects in $100 editing softwares). So now, when Mr. Stone’s narrative centers itself on the voice of “O” – (Blake Lively) the girl we know is going to die at the end, because she says so herself – and suddenly the color-tone shifts to extreme contrast, or black-and-white, or a cell-phone look, we don’t feel “jolted” the way we used to.
In a way the film’s sense of electricity simply changes shape and becomes characters.
Cohn and Ben (Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson) are best yin-yang buds working up a semi-legalized dope business (they sell to the streets as well as pharma’s). Ben is a double-major in botany and business, and he has a clean conscious (he goes away volunteering for charity). Cohn has the skills of a tactically-minded goon – a knack he refined in his Middle Eastern tours with the Army. As O’s opening narration tells us, Cohn’s army tour was a sly-trick: he smuggled back Prime seeds for Californian-cultivation.
O is the embodiment of today’s youth; a vague, drifting, young woman, addicted to dope since 8th grade and openly sexual.
She is both Cohn and Ben’s shared center, and their love interest – or as Scott writes, “a hypotenuse of a happily triangular domestic ménage”. The three-way, and very open, love-affair is self-evident – its explicitness is unavoidable and defensible without emotional complications. Mr. Stone expects the viewer to accept it for what it is, and not what it ought to be. As the film catapults itself into a drug-war (no Scarface-like shootouts here, a film also written by Mr. Stone), feverishly cutting back and forth into parallel side-characters – Benicio Del Toro, Demian Bichir, Selma Hayek, John Travolta, all naturally evil, – it is the three’s shared love that grounds the film’s aptitude for exuberance (Not counting the over-the-top Bollywood-ish climax that O herself labels a muck-up). As Mr. Stone tell us: savagery is civilized, and innocence is not overrated – and it all depends on where you stand.
Released by Universal, “Savages” is rated R for hard graphic sex, violence and drug-use – and for once everyone in a movie is deliciously evil.
The published version is at: http://dawn.com/2012/08/12/animadversion-dirty-rotten-savages/
It look like this in the paper: