There was a time when Oliver Stone was arguably the greatest director in the world. His movies were powerful. His movies mattered.
He re-invented the war film with “Platoon” (1986). “Wall Street” (1987) is still the best movie ever made about Wall Street. ““Born on the Fourth of July” (1989) was a riveting. gut-wrenching, emotional tour de force. "Talk Radio” (1989) stands as a frightening prediction of the age of angry right wing hate radio we now live in. “JFK” (1991) is simply a masterpiece.
Then, like a an aging athlete whose abilities seem to instantly vanish, Stone’s storytelling skills seemed to evaporate overnight. Sure there were interesting moments during the decline here and there, and not all the movies were terrible. But the days of walking into anOliver Stone movie and being blown away by a master director at the peak of his craft seemed long gone.
“Savages” is a stylish neo-noir drenched in seductive California sunshine, hard bodies and tropical beaches. All the while there is a blood spattering specter of violence lurking beneath the surface, threatening to burst out at any moment. And burst out it does, often, and sometimes shockingly so. But this is not the out of control jokester Oliver Stone whose self-indulgent excesses allowed “Natural Born Killers” (1994) to degenerate into an over-directed mess.
Working from an acclaimed novel (by Don Winslow),“Savages” is perfectly cast, expertly paced, beautifully staged and shot, and edited with a light touch. Stone trusts his material and allows his actors to flourish in the well written characters. Every frame moves the narrative forward and contributes to the film noir feel.
The characters are not just interesting, thanks to the charismatic cast, they burn to life. Salma Hayek is frightening and irresistible at same time. She delivers an amazing piece of work. John Travolta is superb as a dirty DEA agent, and nobody does sinister and creepy better than Benicio del Toro.
Of course the great source material, the knockout supporting cast, and the stylish direction would all be for not if the three leads did not work. After all, this is at its core a movie about a threesome. Literally, they are a threesome, and Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Blake Lively blaze across the screen in“Savages” with a white hot sexual charisma that must be seen to believed. This is the sexiest American film to hit theaters in many years. You would have to go back to the John Dahl film noirs of the early 90s to find this kind of eroticism in a crime movie.
Moody cinematography (always a Stone strength), an eclectic score, fascinating characters, outrageous violence, daring sensuality, and three main characters we root for, “Savages” is a film noir lover’s dream. It is a wickedly entertaining, pulpy masterwork of neo-noir. Oliver Stone has returned to form and delivered the year’s best film so far.