I saw Oliver Stone’s Savages the other day. It was intense. I liked some elements and couldn’t stand others. The main thing I didn’t like was the narration. Blake Lively’s monotone (as “O”, short for Ophelia), insists on interrupting the action with needless commentary. I’m sure it’s included because this movie is based on a book, but when will filmmakers learn that book-narration rarely translates to the visual format of storytelling on screen? Sometimes the narration in this film was distracting or actually more confusing because she’d say “meanwhile, so-and-so blah blah blah” and I’d be thinking, who’s so-and-so? But when it cut to them I’d recognize the character immediately, so all the narration did was make me confused where I otherwise would have been fine. Other times the narration forced me to roll my eyes and scribble down a snarky comment; either way it was continually pulling me away from the story rather than helping immerse me in it. Some of the worst narrated lines included:
- “Just ’cause I’m telling you this story, doesn’t mean I’m alive at the end of it. Yeah. It’s that kind of story.”
- “Every successful business has an origin story.” Really? Like every unsuccessful business doesn’t have an origin story? Like every person or organization or movement ever doesn’t have one? Why even say this?! Total waste of time to even mention it, completely annoying to try to make it sound like it’s somehow unique to this story.
- “Dope’s supposed to be bad, but in a bad, bad world, it’s good. Chon says drugs are a rational response to insanity.” The logic of one pothead regurgitated by another pothead who is too stoned to come up with her own thoughts.
- [the best pot in the world is] “right here in California, USA.” Oh great. Go ‘merica! We always have to brag about being the supposed best at everything in the world, even illicit drug production.
- “Ben is Buddhist, Chon is Baddhist.” I mean do we really need this cutesy description to understand the boys are polar opposites? No. We do not. It’s obvious in everything from their actions, reactions, facial expressions, and movements. Stop narrating this story to death.
- “I looked up the definition of ‘savage’…” NO. YOU DID NOT. YOU DID NOT JUST SAY THAT. Citing dictionary definitions is the absolute worst. And it’s completely unnecessary! By this point the film has defined “savages” very well through the characters! I actually really liked the “savages” theme and the way that both sides used it to label the other, until O ruined it with her insipid voice-over.
Other things I thought about while watching this movie:
Why do the cartels use emoticons in their threatening cyber-communications with Ben and Chon? LOL.
I love the code-switching between English and Spanish that ruthless cartel leader Elena demonstrates, mainly when she’s yelling at her underlings. Code-switching is just cool. Actually, that scene was released as a sneak-peak before the movie came out, and it’s on youtube legitimately.
That torture scene where the guy’s eyeball is hanging out was just gross. I couldn’t really look at it, and I distracted myself by thinking about how it reminded me of that episode of The Guild when Codex is flirting with a stunt guy who just came from set and has a fake eyeball hanging off his face, too. So I’m sure it was just make-up in Savages, but it was a lot more disgusting than in The Guild. Although Codex does immediately vomit after he makes her touch the squishy fake eye-ball. (It’s a great show, written by and staring my hero Felicia Day, and you can watch it all online here.)
What’s with the Shakespeare references? I’m guessing it’s a theme in the book, since O makes reference to the fact that she’s named after a character in Hamlet, and says that “people are willing to go Henry the 8th on this.” Is there also some famous Shakespeare quote or passage that directly deals with the idea of who or what a “savage” is? I can’t think of one off the top of my head.
There’s a scene where, **SPOILER ALERT**, Elena suddenly looses the upper hand in her attempts to manipulate Ben and Chon into doing what she wants, because they kidnap her beloved daughter. She’s obviously shaken and she immediately agrees to do whatever they want to get her daughter back. Her voice looses it’s hard edge and becomes more of a shaky whisper. Then she screams for her entourage to get out, and when she’s alone in the room she collapses crying and pulls off her wig of shiny perfect hair! She’s not bald, her hair is just in a wig cap. But I thought it was interesting, this explicit link between a female with power and her beauty. Earlier, when Elena was still plotting and scheming and in control, she was shown applying face cream, and she always had perfect make-up, that long shiny hair, and expensive jewelry. And when she looses her power, she looses her beauty too.
It’s definitely not the first time a movie has implied a mysterious link between female beauty and power. Movie women are rarely just powerful, they have to be powerful and beautiful, and if one of those attributes is threatened, so is the other one. We saw another explicit example of this recently with the evil Queen Ravenna in Snow White and the Huntsman. I mean, the entire Snow White story is about women fighting over who is the most beautiful and therefore the most powerful! Or think of Regina George in Mean Girls–of all the pranks that Caty and her friends try to make the queen of Girl World less popular, the only one that works with the masses is making her “fat” and “less pretty.”