I figured I'd catch up on some movies that I had wanted to see a year ago and Oliver Stone's latest was playing on HBO. Stone is the kind of director whose name immediately sparks an interest in my wish to see a film. Certainly if you look at his filmography, his films have dipped in quality since his heydey of the late 80s and through the 90s (Salvador, Platoon, Wall Street, Talk Radio, Born on the Fouth of July, The Doors, JFK, Heaven and Earth, Natural Born Killers, Nixon, U-Turn, and Any Given Sunday) and yet even with his later work (World Trade Center, Money Never Sleeps) he still has something to say. Kind of like the idea of how Woody Allen, who makes a film every year, has made so much that he can't help but waiver in quality and yet he is still patiently adding brick-by-brick to a wall of his work that will be looked back on with affinity for its breadth. Perhaps the best modern counter-part to Stone is Spike Lee whose masterpieces were early in his career like Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X and yet he still has some unique stories to contribute like with 25th Hour or Inside Man.
Something else I admire about Stone is his ability to make his points bluntly and then beat those points to death and still have a meaningful moment. It doesn't always work, but when he makes it work, it absolutely becomes the most talked about moment of his film in question. A non-Stone example would be how at the end of Paul Greengrass's underrated thriller Green Zone, Matt Damon stands up and outright says "The reason we go to war matter!", thus forcing an overly blunt attempt at giving this story more meaning when the film was functioning so well as a crafty and thrilling experience in suspense. A case where being blunt can work for someone such as Stone would be how during JFK, Kevin Costner makes his closing arguments and reminds us of the trajectory of the bullet that killed the president. "Back and to the left." "Back and to the left." "Back and to the left." Each time the camera angle adjusts every so slightly with Costner saying it differently and getting a different and more intense reaction each time he says it.
With that in mind, I can see why so many enjoy Stone's Natural Born Killers. The film is everything one has come to expect from Stone but with added dose of adrenaline and steroids. Savages seems like an attempt to recapture that zaniness with the celebrity and examination of violence from Natural Born Killers being replaced with issues of cross-cultural communication and economics in Savages. The film got some great reviews. A lot of critics seemed to really dig it. I just didn't quite care for it as much as I was hoping. The film feels careless with its depiction of characters and events and I don't even mean that in a moral sense. The movie lets these characters wander into and out of extremely volatile and tense situations all in the name of two men's love for a single woman and yet then there is a sudden attempt at a sociological angle that I feel takes away from those stakes... a comment about immigration here or a statement about the devils of the United States government there. The film has such a talented cast that I'd much rather see an exploration of emotion instead of a descent into exploitation.
For a movie where much is at state, I'm just having trouble grasping at the suspense when I'm pretty sure the stakes warrant much more emotionally reliable characters who are instead treated as postmarks.