Saturday, July 07, 2012

Laguna Beach and Lado

Oliver Stone's script for Scarface (1983, Brian De Palma) cemented his place as a seer, insider and observer of international drug smuggling. To refrain from over-citing influences found in his latest film, I'll just add that a decade later he was already practically heading for oblivion with his insane adventure Natural Born Killers (1994, Oliver Stone).

Savages (2012, Stone) is a pulp crime story about marijuana trafficking and boasts one of the all time best movie villains with its Lado (Benicio Del Toro), a sadist Mexican with a Joe Dirt mullet.

The themes etched out range far and pile up at high speed. Stone's interests seem to find their way into countless areas of the narrative--from Eastern religions and spirituality to the military and the global drug business.

Part of the film's appeal is its dedication to showing us things we've seen before, but with a new spin. Nothing ever felt stale, aside from Blake Lively's acting abilities. Elena (Salma Hayek) balances out Lado's sinister capacity for violence with an aged wisdom and psychological insight into this somewhat shallow milieu of desperate stereotypes engaged in the war that continuously escalates in Savages. Hayek and Del Toro, along with John Travolta as a DEA agent, saved this movie in the sense that I'm afraid to imagine what the film would be like without them. Travolta and Del Toro particularly seem to be the only actors who realize how much better the movie is with them knowingly acting over the top (Emile Hirsch also goes way big and reminded me that this isn't supposed to be taken too seriously).

The film falls somewhere in my imagination between what Domino (2005, Tony Scott) would be like if it was written by Jim Thompson, if, say, maybe he'd somehow decided to tell his version of Traffic (2000, Steven Soderbergh) and changed the focus from heroine to marijuana.

The Spanish dialogue isn't translated. I should emphasize that I'm really trying to put this delicately: but, I think the Mexicans are atypically fleshed out and are most of the reason for the film's verisimilitude. And on the other hand, I think the White characters are displayed as spoiled and mostly self-centered. But, I have to say I think Stone has ultimately treated both sides equally--they're of course neither all good or all bad.

The camera is always handheld and roving. In most of the shots the B.G. goes soft and the bokeh of the practicals resulting from the shallow depth of field vacillate between circles and octagons, which I found a little distracting. I'm also still trying to place the motivation behind some very brief black and white transitions.

I enjoyed this cynical world of power elites and their petty marijuana-related beefs. There was always some thematic subtext that I'd found interesting, and I've spent considerable time attempting to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into the intricacies of who does what to who and why in Savages. So, needless to say, I wasn't disappointed.


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