Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review: Savages

Get out your guns and weed, we're reviewing Savages!
I've been trying more ink and dry brush lately!
Ben(Aaron Johnson) and Chon(Taylor Kitsch) are the two of the best pot growers in the world. Elena(Salma Hayek), who runs the mexican drug cartel, wants in on their business. When Ben and Chon refuse, she kidnaps their mutual girlfriend, O(Blake Lively). What are Ben and Chon willing to do to get her back?  Spoilers follow.

This wasn't on my radar, but I'm glad I took the time to check it out. It's an interesting movie, almost a great one. It's almost a modern day noir, almost, but as it stands it's a very progressive gangster movie.

That's one of the main draws of this, it's a gangster movie set in today's world with today's views. When I first saw the trailer I was sure that O was cheating on Chon with Ben and vice versa, but it really is a three-way relationship, which you don't see anywhere near a violent action movie like this.  It's awesome that they set it up as this one big loving relationship with no threatening between the two. They could have easily had some jealousy side plots but they managed to take the high road.

It's not just the relationship that's progressive, it's the way they handle their business. Ben and Chon are finding new and exciting ways to produce weed and making the business as bloodless as possible. Ben's even a Buddhist. They use this network of people from ex-investment bankers to ex-marines to ex-hackers all to keep their business running smoothly.  Even the mexican drug cartels are using the guise of dayworkers to cover up their gruesome murders. It's interesting seeing how everything works. Less so with Blake Lively narrating through the whole thing, but interesting nonetheless.

Then there are the noir elements. This movie is so close to being a noir I can almost taste it.  No one here is completely good, but no one is completely bad, just tons and tons of grey.  Ben and Chon are drug dealers sure, but they use that money to help children in third-world countries and their actually passionate about it. O looks like the sweet helpless damsel, but she's addicted to dope and possibly crazy.  Even Elena, the cold-hearted leader of the cartel has a daughter she cares for deeply. Then there's Dennis the FBI agent played by John Travolta and you're never sure which side he's on.
Aaron Johnson was Kick-Ass in Kick-Ass!

Ben is probably the most pure character in the movie, and like any good noir, he's given two extremely shitty choices, and he picks the one that will lead him down a path that will destroy any kind of morality he once had. By the end of it, he's as hardened and empty as Chon. That's a really good noir arc. The soundtrack even has this Hawaiian guitar riff every so often that's more unsettling than calming, adding to a melodramatic atmosphere.  If it wasn't for the ending that comes out of left field(more on that later) I'd make a good case for this being a great modern day noir.

The movie's well acted, and the dialogue is fun, except for the narrating of Blake Lively, which gets annoying after a while. And Pet peeve: if you tell me you may not get out of it alive, that tells me nothing of whether or not you're alive at the end. I think we've seen enough movies with unreliable narrators that we can wonder by ourselves if you're alive or not. Saying it feels just like, "Am I alive or aren't I?! I'll never tell!  Oh I guess you'll just have to watch to find out ohoho hee hee!" It's not subtle, it's amateurish.

The action is pretty good. Lots of gunplay and shootouts and explosions and head choppings and torturing, and all sorts of fun stuff.  There are a few parts that are especially brutal that people with weak stomaches may not enjoy. Suffice it to say there's lots of blood and gore. I feel sometimes the movie is a little too full of itself with overly dramatic opera music and long pauses. We get it, you're killing this guy, it's dramatic, get over it.

One thing it's not progressive about is movie stereotypes. I was surprised to see they totally kill the black guy, and it's exactly as bad as it sounds. He's a minor character, one of the only black actors, he barely has any dialogue, he gets killed twenty minutes in, without a thought, and no one even acknowledges his death. I almost expected someone at the end to go, "By the way, anyone see Hayes?"   I guess they were too busy worrying about their white woman. It feels like they're saying, "Ok, we've met our black quota, now get out of here, you!"

I don't want to spoil it, but I really need to talk about the ending, because it's bothering me. So consider this your SPOILER WARNING. At the very end, there's a standoff and a huge shootout, and not a lot of people make it. Chon pumps some drugs into O, she says she's cold, the camera pans out, and it's unknown if or which of our protagonists are still alive. Then O goes, "Well that's how I imagined it, but this is what REALLY happened." And the movie rewinds to just before the shootout, with a different ending, where everyone makes it out alive, even the bad guys. The three protagonists go off exploring the world somewhere, and I guess they all live happily ever after. Let me make this clear that nothing like this happened in the movie before. O had no control of the narrative, so this feels just like a tacked-on ending to make sure the audience wasn't sad their heroes died.

But a theory I have which makes it much better, (close to the indoctrination theory in Mass Effect 3), is that this second ending is just O's fever dream while she's being pumped full of drugs.  She would want to fantasize about a happy ending with everything working out, especially with all that she's been through. She also alluded before to being crazy enough for medication, so maybe this is her finally snapping.  It's probably not, but that's the way I'd like to think that's what it really means. END SPOILER ALERT.

Savages is a pretty entertaining movie. It's got some great dialogue and action, and it's interesting to see a progessive gangster flick with trace noir elements. Sometimes it's a bit too gory, too long and too full of itself and it has a dumb ending, but overall it's pretty fun.

THE GOOD: modern gangsters with modern gangster ways, noir elements, lots of action, nice dialogue and acting, some nice plot twists and noir arcs.

THE BAD: Feels long, Blake Lively narrating, might be too gory for some, too full of itself sometimes, dumb ending.

THE VERDICT: $$$ It's good, but not great. I'd recommend it for the interesting story an nice action, but there's a lot that keeps it from being great. Maybe see it in theaters of there's nothing else out, or wait for it on netflix.

MOVIES LIKE IT: Drive, Takers, Haywire, 21 Grams

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: In the beginning, O explains how Ben and Chon met and how they run their business. It's all interesting how progressive it is and how well everything fits, but it takes a good twenty minutes of straight explaining stuff, and it's Blake Lively explaining stuff, so it feels super long.

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