Savages [2012]

Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Shane Salerno, Don Winslow, Oliver Stone
Starring: Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Benicio del Toro, Salma Hayek, Emile Hirsch, Demián Bichir, John Travolta, Joaquín Cosío, Sandra Echeverría

You know that notion of “turning off your brain” when watching a movie? Silencing out the critic in you and just having fun with a silly, trashy movie? Well, I tried doing that last night while watching Savages. I succeeded for the most part, but the sucker kept turning back on! Having a friend with me (which is not very common when I go to the movies) helped: we laughed a lot with the film but mostly at it.

Oliver Stone’s best films are, no doubt, behind him. In Savages, the Mexican clichés are abundant; the writing is abysmal, alternating between unintentionally funny and cringe-inducing, and the three lead actors (Lively, Johnson and Kitsch) phone in their performances. But somehow, mysteriously, it manages to entertain (it’s surprisingly fun for a movie about drug cartel wars). The saturated colors of Dan Mindel’s cinematography fit the dark tone of the movie very well and the sexy/sordid atmosphere is almost palpable but, man, there’s that awful writing again! Really takes you out of the movie, doesn’t it?

It still shouldn’t work, but it does, mainly for four reasons. One: the violence is constant, shocking, almost never gratuitous or exaggerated. This is a movie about narcos, after all; we know what these sons of bitches are willing to do. Two: Demián Bichir. This role is not as meaty as the one that put him on the worldwide map, but he does great things with little screen time. Three: Benicio Del Toro. Sure, his “Lado” is a complete caricature but he infuses him with such menace that we are prone to forget about the ridiculousness of his character. Four: Salma Hayek. Her campy, over-the-top performance as Elena “La Reina” Sánchez holds this mess of a movie together. She is simply fantastic as the strongest character, who also happens to be the most stunning. She’s the backbone and the bosom of Savages.

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