Friday, 1 February 2013

savages (d. oliver stone, w. stone, don winslow, shane salerno)

Raging against the Dying of the Light.

It’s strange to now be of an age where one has observed entire careers unfold. I watched Salvador in York, nearly thirty years ago. It should go down alongside Kiss of the Spiderwoman as a film which opened our perceptions to what was occurring in the world around us. After that, my friend Sedley watched Platoon compulsively in the front room in Stockwell, replaying the video time after time, hooked on the way the narrative functioned. Tom Berenger, now almost forgotten, pitted against the nascent Dafoe. Born on the Fourth of July helped to establish Stone as a man not only prepared but gung-ho to talk about the things which middle America considered taboo. Thereafter JFK came out and articulated something which had crossed the mind of anyone born after 1963, separating the generations. Something was fishy in the state of Texas, USA. Even if Costner’s magic bullet theory wasn’t the actual truth, the film reflected a growing consensus that the received truth governments offer is something we should never accept on trust. (Elroy’s novel American Tabloid makes even more effective capital out of this truism.) With this kind of capital in the bank, Stone could continue to address the big topics and claim a relevance, even if the quality and rigour of his films began to ebb away.

Which brings us to his latest, Savages. The subtext of Savages is fairly clear and not entirely stupid. The big banks, nay even capitalism itself, (which has financed Stone’s art and no doubt made him rich), have the same ethics and ruthlessness as drugs cartels. Chon and Ben, the young, ethically friendly dope producers are the subject of an aggressive takeover bid from some bad Mexicans, headed up by Salma Hayek with resident Hollywood Latino, Benicio Del Toro in tow. Which is about as much as anyone needs to know. Thereafter the acting is at best insipid, the narrative is porous and more than anything else the tone is so ill-judged that one wonders what happened to the old radical and how he ended up getting caught up in this dross. The man who made Salvador now portrays the Mexicans as blundering psychopaths and the pretty gringos as romantic leads. In another life, Chon and Ben might have been amongst the victims in Platoon. Now we have to endure their desperate attempts at squaring their moral turpitude with a Bhuddist perspective, one which leads to them becoming eco-warriors in Indonesia.

One can only assume that this was a studio job and Stone was in it for the money. Which kind of begs the question of how he’s managed to get himself so trapped by a system he’s spent so long trying to subvert. Stone was never the most subtle of filmmakers but you had the impression that there was conviction and a kind of bad-ass integrity. As these begin to wane you can’t help asking yourself why he feels the need to carry on, tarnishing a legacy which stands alongside some of the finest filmmakers of his Hollywood generation. 

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