Savages movie and its star triad
Oliver Stone's new movie Savages opened today, and reviews pour in. Its stars are a poly triad of weed growers/dealers who run afoul of a Mexican cartel. What's noteworthy here is that their tightly bonded V relationship is just treated as part of the story rather than a focus of attention, as if viewers know all about these things and need no explanation.
Reviewer Marshall Fine at the Huffington Post thinks the actors are duds:
...This film by Oliver Stone, based on a snappy novel by Don Winslow (who co-wrote the script with Shane Salerno), springs to life when the action gets cracking -- and settles into stoned somnolence when it turns its attention back to its central trio.
The story focuses on the romantic triad of Ophelia (or "O," as everyone calls her) played with uninviting dimness by Blake Lively; Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a stoner mercenary; and Ben (Aaron Johnson), a genius botanist with do-gooder, nonviolent impulses. They live together, love together -- well, not quite the whole polyamorous package because, while Chon and Ben both are boning O, they don't seem to have eyes for each other.
...This movie shifts into neutral whenever it zooms in on the three amigos, living large in Laguna Beach, where Ben's plant-breeding and Chon's business acumen have turned Ben's unique marijuana hybrid into the weed of choice for surfers and businessmen alike in smoke-happy SoCal. It's a sweet life -- until it's not.
Because now the Mexican cartel wants in.... When Stone can focus on the brutal violence of action setpieces... Savages jumps to life. Stone is in his element, cranking up the graphic imagery of what bullets do to flesh in ways that seem particularly shocking in the moment....
Kitsch finds one note -- anger -- to play as the unstoppable Chon. Lively tries to name that tune in even fewer notes, playing O as a total blank. She succeeds, creating a zero at the center of the film -- and, as a result, you continually wonder just why these two guys are risking life, limb and commerce for this dimwit....
Maybe the actors didn't know how to play a devoted triad, one in which (SPOILER COMING!) if one man dies, the other man and woman would commit suicide together out of grief. Here's an interview with the two guys that suggests they really didn't get it:
Q: ...Do you think that’s really possible to share a girlfriend without any jealousy like that?
Aaron Johnson: No, I don’t think it is [laughs]. Yeah, I think that says a lot about these guys that there’s no shame in their relationship, no jealousy, and it’s a bond that’s stronger than that.... I think she’s just fucking greedy, to be honest [laughs].
Ditto with Blake Lively, who plays the gal of the trio. In a different interview she also betrays cluelessness:
Lively said she and her co-stars found it challenging to understand "how three people can be in love."
"I think that what we finally learned after hours of trying to learn how to explain it is that you can't explain it - you just need to see it," she told OnTheRedCarpet.com. "And how do you see it? These three people love each other but why do they need each other? Because they never had that love from anyone else."
On the other hand, Franklin Veaux (of More than Two web fame) thinks they did fine:
I actually thought the three main characters did an excellent job; the way they deliver their dialog, for example, really suggests a lot of subtext and history to me.
Now, it could be that I'm projecting into their characters. But it also could be that the critics who accuse them of weak performances were expecting to see things -- drama, jealousy, anger, resentment -- that weren't there in the relationship. I think there's an expectation that if you have two people in love with a third, there is supposed to be tension or conflict between them...so when there wasn't any in the movie, the critics assumed it was because the actors couldn't portray it, not because the characters didn't have it.
I found the relationships between the main characters to be among the healthiest and most functional romantic relationships I've seen in any Hollywood movie. Perhaps the difficulty the critics are having is simply that healthy relationships tend not to be interesting?
So many articles on the movie are popping up that I'm not keeping track. Click here for hundreds of Google News results, with the most recent first.
Here's a review of reviews.
Poly writer Maria Padhila at Planet Waves loved the Savages book (2010) well before the movie appeared. See her article about both.
The movie is "rated R for strong brutal and grisly violence" etc. with torture, blood, death "from brain matter to eye sockets" notes one review.