The basic premise of most crime revenge dramas is how much of our humanity we're willing to trade to get back what the other people — the ostensible baddies — have taken from us. Oliver Stone returns to this familiar stomping ground with Savages a splashy adaptation of Don Winslow's novel about a unique love affair a major marijuana-dealing business and an increasingly violent pissing match between two SoCal growers and the Baja Cartel.
Stone's frenetic visual style is in full swing but even this Oscar-winning auteur can't quite raise the film from mediocrity. It's hard to care whether or not Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) rescue their gorgeous mutual girlfriend O (Blake Lively) from the cartel if O isn't engaging enough to persuade us she's worth the bloodshed. O (short for Ophelia — an allusion to her earthshaking climaxes) is not a well-written character to begin with but she's even less engaging as played by Lively. Johnson is unconvincing as the bleeding heart Ben and the details his character is given — extra earrings a shoddy-looking tattoo on his neck even white boy dreads at one point — undercut his believability even more. Kitsch is given a few prominent scars and a mean squint but he doesn't quite bring the weird slightly empty vibe of Chon to life.
On the villain side Benicio Del Toro chews every inch of scenery from Laguna Beach to Tijuana as Lado. He's rocking an intense moustache that he strokes when he's lying or being a creep (which is most of the time) a vaguely mullet-like wig and a fondness for torture. Salma Hayek takes no prisoners as the head of the cartel nicknamed Elena la Reina who is both a frustrated mom whose college-age daughter is blowing her off (aw!) and a brutally tough woman in a man's world. John Travolta definitely enjoys a bit of Pulp Fiction ridiculousness as Dennis a DEA official who's in Ben and Chon's pocket. It's hard to tell just how funny Savages is aiming to be. Lado Elena and Dennis are cartoonish but Ben Chon and O are earnest — which is to say a little bit boring.
The double- and triple-crossing is practically moot as is the wacky technology that Ben and Chon employ; it's like The Social Network meets surfers. The real meat of the movie is the flash and violence but it's not the kind of thing that stays with you like Stone's Natural Born Killers. Savages doesn't have the same lingering aftertaste. It's not that a movie needs to have some sort of message with its pointed commentary on the media's bloodlust but the gist of Savages — that we're all savages at heart or that we can easily become a savage given the right circumstances — is not that interesting or unique.
Oddly enough Savages pulls a few punches when it comes to its source material (hard to believe when the movie kicks off with a glimpse of an abattoir-like enclosure and close-ups of men begging for their lives just as a chainsaw revs in the background). Winslow's book is a quick enjoyable read with an interesting on-page style that's hard to replicate verbally. It has a sort of ADD-addled feel that the movie tries to but doesn't quite capture. While it's not always fair to compare an adaptation to the book it's based on Winslow is both the author and one of the screenplay writers so some of the choices made behind the scenes don't quite add up. Cut are significant and menacing back story for Lado and all of the zestiness out of O. Why add in certain plot points and take out others unless it was to give one of its big name stars more screen time? The most interesting part of the story the love story is treated like a wink wink homoerotic thing than an actual relationship between three people who adore each other which is how it's portrayed in the book. It's hard not to be a little disappointed especially given Stone's no-f**ks-given attitude. (Or as O would say baditude.)
That said it is a somewhat entertaining diversion and a nice tour of lifestyles of the rich and criminal. Lively is all tangled tan limbs and luxurious hippie clothes and the homes they frequent whether on Laguna Beach or a desert compound are meticulously decorated with exquisite expensive taste. Santa Muerte imagery also figures heavily in the background of many scenes. The scenery is gorgeous — even the marijuana looks amazing. It's good for adults to have another R-rated choice in what's usually a season dominated by blockbusters but in years to come you'll more likely to reach for your old True Romance DVD than Savages.
"American Beauty," the dark existential comedy set in Anywhere, Suburbia, led the pack as nominations were announced today for the 6th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, honoring performances in both film and TV acting.
The film picked up four nominations, including a best actor nod for Kevin Spacey, a best actress one for Annette Bening and a best supporting actor one for Chris Cooper. The "Beauty" cast also was singled out for an ensemble acting nomination.
Trailing "American Beauty" in the movie division with a total of three nods is Spike Jonze's head-scratching absurdist offering "Being John Malkovich". That flick also earned a best ensemble acting nomination, as well as best supporting actress nods for Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener.
Along with "American Beauty" and "Being John Malkovich," Paul Thomas Anderson's sprawling melodrama "Magnolia," "The Cider House Rules" and the Tom Hanks-driven death row flick "The Green Mile" are also in contention for best ensemble film.
Other nominees in the best actor category are: odds-on-Oscar favorite Russell Crowe, for his turn as a tobacco industry whistle-blower in "The Insider"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, for donning drag in "Flawless"; Denzel Washington, for his Golden Globe-winning turn as a wrongly imprisoned boxer in "The Hurricane"; and Jim Carrey, for his equally Golden Globe-winning turn as comic eccentric Andy Kaufman in "Man on the Moon."
Along with Bening, the best film actress nominees are: Julianne Moore ("The End of the Affair"), Meryl Streep ("Music of the Heart"), Janet McTeer ("Tumbleweeds") and Hilary Swank ("Boys Don't Cry).
In the domain of television, HBO's reigning mob hit "The Sopranos" continued its domination of the awards scene, pulling down a field-best five SAG nominations, including one for best ensemble.
Winners will be announced March 12.
Here's the complete nominee list for the 6th Annual SAG Awards:
Best Actor Jim Carrey ("Man on the Moon") Russell Crowe ("The Insider") Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Flawless") Kevin Spacey ("American Beauty") Denzel Washington ("The Hurricane")
Best Actress Annette Bening ("American Beauty") Janet McTeer ("Tumbleweeds") Julianne Moore ("The End of the Affair") Meryl Streep ("Music of the Heart") Hilary Swank ("Boys Don't Cry")
Best Supporting Actor Michael Caine ("The Cider House Rules") Chris Cooper ("American Beauty") Tom Cruise ("Magnolia") Michael Clarke Duncan ("The Green Mile") Haley Joel Osment ("The Sixth Sense")
Best Supporting Actress Cameron Diaz ("Being John Malkovich") Angelina Jolie ("Girl, Interrupted) Catherine Keener ("Being John Malkovich") Julianne Moore ("Magnolia") Chloe Sevigny ("Boys Don't Cry")
Best Ensemble Film "American Beauty" "Being John Malkovich" "The Cider House Rules" "The Green Mile" "Magnolia"
Best Actor for Telefilms and Miniseries Hank Azaria ("Tuesdays With Morrie," ABC) Peter Fonda ("The Passion of Ayn Rand," Showtime) Jack Lemmon ("Tuesdays With Morrie," ABC) George C. Scott ("Inherit the Wind," Showtime) Patrick Stewart ("A Christmas Carol," TNT)
Best Actress for Telefilms and Miniseries Kathy Bates ("Annie," ABC) Halle Berry ("Introducing Dorothy Dandridge," HBO) Judy Davis ("A Cooler Climate," Showtime) Sally Field ("A Cooler Climate," Showtime) Helen Mirren ("The Passion of Ayn Rand," Showtime)
Best Actor for TV Drama Series David Duchovny ("The X-Files," Fox) Dennis Franz ("NYPD Blue," ABC) James Gandolfini ("The Sopranos," HBO) Rick Schroder ("NYPD Blue," ABC) Martin Sheen ("The West Wing," NBC)
Best Actress for TV Drama Series Gillian Anderson ("The X-Files," Fox) Lorraine Bracco ("The Sopranos," HBO) Edie Falco ("The Sopranos," HBO) Nancy Marchand ("The Sopranos," HBO) Annie Potts ("One Fine Day," Lifetime)
Best Actor for TV Comedy Series Michael J. Fox ("Spin City," ABC) Kelsey Grammer ("Frasier," NBC) Peter MacNicol ("Ally McBeal," Fox) David Hyde Pierce ("Frasier," NBC) Ray Romano ("Everybody Loves Raymond," CBS)
Best Actress for TV Comedy Series Calista Flockhart ("Ally McBeal," Fox) Lisa Kudrow ("Friends," NBC) Lucy Liu ("Ally McBeal," Fox) Sarah Jessica Parker ("Sex in the City," HBO) Tracey Ullman ("Tracey Takes On," HBO)
Best Ensemble TV Drama "ER," NBC "Law & Order," NBC "NYPD Blue," ABC "The Practice," ABC "The Sopranos," HBO
Best Ensemble TV Comedy "Ally McBeal," Fox "Everybody Loves Raymond," CBS "Frasier," NBC "Friends," NBC "Sports Night," ABC