Gen­der bender

Sav­ages

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - David Strat­ton

(MA15+) ★★★★✩ Na­tional re­lease

Lim­ited re­lease

O(MA15+) ★★★★✩ LIVER Stone’s ca­reer is an un­usu­ally in­ter­est­ing one, zig-zag­ging from the pro­found to the hy­per­bolic. He’s made three fea­ture films about Amer­i­can pres­i­dents ( JFK, Nixon, W) as well as a doc­u­men­tary pro­file of one of Amer­ica’s fiercest op­po­nents, Fidel Cas­tro ( Com­man­dante). His sear­ing cri­tique of the Viet­nam War, in which he re­luc­tantly par­tic­i­pated, won him ku­dos for Pla­toon and Born on the Fourth of July, and in his two films about cor­po­rate greed, Wall Street and its 2010 se­quel, he at­tempted, with some suc­cess, to ex­plore the dark side of cap­i­tal­ism. He was also the first Amer­i­can film­maker to ex­am­ine the hu­man ef­fect of 9/11 with the am­bi­tiously dis­tress­ing World Trade Cen­ter. Yet this is the same Oliver Stone who scripted ul­tra-vi­o­lent thrillers such as Year of the Dragon and Scar­face, and who di­rected the con­tro­ver­sial Nat­u­ral Born Killers; and let’s not for­get that his first re­leased fea­ture in 1981 was a hor­ror movie, The Hand.

The two Oliver Stones, the cru­sad­ing and the ex­trav­a­gant, com­bine in Sav­ages, a supremely well-made adaptation of a novel by Don Winslow. On one level this is a stark re­minder of the power of the Mex­i­can drug car­tels which, ac­cord­ing to the screen­play by the di­rec­tor in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the au­thor and Shane Salerno, are more than ca­pa­ble of reach­ing across the bor­der into the US to ex­ert their own par­tic­u­lar form of vi­o­lent pres­sure.

The re­sult, hand­somely pho­tographed by Dan Min­del, is a vis­ually rich and very tense thriller — but it’s a bit more than that, be­cause of the bleak sense of hu­mour Stone and his col­lab­o­ra­tors bring to the ma­te­rial.

In all the re­cent talk in Aus­tralia about gen­der, it’s in­ter­est­ing to note that the head of the drug car­tel fea­tured in the film is a woman, Elena, im­pos­ingly played by Salma Hayek, and as ruth­less as any man; it helps that her en­forcer, a brute named Lado, played with lips­mack­ing en­thu­si­asm by Beni­cio Del Toro, is a sadist who will do any­thing to achieve his ends. In con­trast to these very nasty vil­lains are the good guys, and here we find an­other in­di­ca­tion that Stone is will­ing to play around with genre con­ven­tions. Chon (Tay­lor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron John­son) are part­ners in crime, and their crime is the pro­duc­tion of a par­tic­u­larly fine strain of cannabis, cul­ti­vated, by botanist Ben, from seeds that for­mer Navy SEAL Chon brought back from Afghanistan.

From their lux­ury pad in La­guna Beach, these young men man­u­fac­ture a brand of weed so po­tent as to give the word ‘‘ su­per­grass’’ an en­tirely new mean­ing. For Ben, the dope busi­ness is a green ac­tiv­ity, a ra­tio­nal re­sponse to in­se­cu­rity. It’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore Elena’s Mex­i­can car­tel hears about the stuff and wants a part of the ac­tion; and when their en­voy is po­litely re­fused, the Mex­i­cans make it clear they won’t take no for an an­swer.

There’s a fur­ther com­pli­ca­tion. Chon and Ben live in a menage a trois with beau­ti­ful, blonde O (short for Ophe­lia, ‘‘ the bipo­lar bas­ket-case in Ham­let who com­mit­ted sui­cide’’, as O her­self ex­plains as she nar­rates the film.) O is played by Blake Lively, and she’s very open about her re­la­tion­ship with the two men, ex­plain­ing that ‘‘ to­gether they’re one com­plete man’’ — she says a lot more than that, but it’s bet­ter heard in the con­text of the film. Sex isn’t some­thing main­stream Amer­i­can cinema is very com­fort­able with or very good at de­pict­ing and the kind of kinky sex af­forded by this three-in-a-bed sce­nario (it makes Jules and Jim look ter­ri­bly tame) is un­usual, though some­what un­der­mined be­cause they seem to do it fully clothed.

O’s afore­men­tioned nar­ra­tion is, at best, un­re­li­able. She starts by telling us that ‘‘ just be­cause I’m telling you this story doesn’t mean I’m alive at the end of it’’, and by means of this sort of dis­ori­ent­ing ap­proach Stone has fun with the genre, of­fer­ing more than one end­ing. O, adored by both Ben and Chon, proves to be their Achilles heel.

Mid­way be­tween

the

Cal­i­for­nian

dop­ers

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