Friday, July 20, 2012

Savages (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Under the very horrible  and tragic circumstances at a theater in Aurora Colorado, the depiction of guns, buckets of  blood and IEDs is a bit troubling to me. It is this trepidation that I felt in watching "Savages" the new film by Oliver Stone, a director who I greatly respect for his usual iconoclastic points of view.

His new film quotes everything from "Scarface" to "Natural  Born Killers" and  "The Bourne Identity", with such dizzying buoyancy that its hard to resist despite its unabashed gore. This is a Drive-In movie of sorts with founts of blood and melodrama reaching  high Camp and circumstance but it is also a statement on the desperation of ugly people, the dog eat dog immediacy of violence and the shallowness of some well meaning New Age types who don't read all that much. 

California Surfer Dude Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) are best buds. In short order the two go into the marijauna business, fueled by Chon's military tour in Afghanistan. They begin to make money-chests of money--- in part for their exclusive high THC product, presumably the highest available in the world. But all is not well in Cali. A  fearsome Mexican drug cartel led by Elena (Salma Hayek) and her heavy henchman, Lado (Benicio Del Toro) get word of these beach boys and want a piece of this puff pod. What follows is an absolute nonstop and dizzying carnival of violence that would scorch the eyes (and very nearly does: I felt the blood in my eyes and counted the many decapitated heads) were it not for the mesmerizing and colorful sensitivity that Oliver Stone displays in illustrating a haunting and vibrant shadow-soaked Mexico, possessed by Death. The characters in this film are punchy and quite scary but they also contain something of a Grimm's Fairy Tale and a Supernatural comic book quality with all the histrionic hand-wringing (and hand-stabbing) that goes on.

In watching "Savages" you get the false impression that these cartels are filled by nearly unstoppable killing machines that kill and kill and kill again, even when riddled by bullets. We see whole shacks of near supermen driven by torture. Salma Hayek and Benicio Del  Toro are both given touches of humor as they shriek, scream and rage against the sky. Hayek is a Aztec Queen right out of a Soldier of Fortune's Snow White. The more Evil she becomes the more beautiful she becomes, constantly preening herself on red velvet, while contemplating a new Sopa de Tortilla con Sangre. Benicio Del Toro is part Golem, part Hannibal Lecter with a dash of Frankenstein's Creature, as he leers lecherously and stares, lost in his own sadism. 

This is merciless violence and uncaring carnality without a breath but Oliver Stone treats it all like a grim carousel that spins an infinite number of jack-o-lanterns and arsenic sugar skulls.  His camera secretes  such dark amber light that it is impossible not to doubt his mastery. Stone's camera becomes a perpetually arcing totem within itself, highlighting everything from deep cleavage, animal print fabrics, frightening skulls and Indian burial sites. And all these elements are held in a cycling vortex of The Pacific Ocean, at once sumptuous and sinister. 

"Savages" shows Oliver Stone as he seems behind the camera: A man at the center of his storm. A Vietnam-voiced Dante in charge of his infernal and personal iconography.

To watch Oliver Stone is invariably an experience and he hardly disappoints and certainly doesn't here with an over the top operatic denouement. The final concluding scenes are so Grand Guignol and perfect as is, that I wondered why he felt the need for an alternate go-around. With such lurid detail and animal angst befitting a Weird Tales potboiler, the after-image of tranquility that Stone inserts makes for a superfluous  side effect.

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