Three reviewers, one movie. What’s Toronto Film Scene to do? In keeping with TFS’ July theme, a ménage à trois is clearly in order.

Oliver Stone’s latest film Savages opens in theatres today. A couple of days ago, Toronto Film Scene Editor-in-Chief Trista DeVries, Managing Editor Kristal Cooper and Writer Brandy Dean attended a press screening and sat down to discuss their sometimes wildly differing views on a film that centres around another ménage à trois, this time between beach bum marijuana mini-moguls Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and  Ben (Aaron Johnson) and their shared paramour O (Blake Lively) for whom they take on a Mexican drug cartel lead by Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro.

Here’s the resulting conversation:

Trista: I really liked this movie, but not because it’s good. I liked it because it is the height of ridiculousness, with a ton of mixed metaphors and missed opportunities.

Brandy: Oliver Stone movies are like pretty, elaborately wrapped pieces of candy. You can’t resist eating one, but then you feel slightly nauseous and empty. So while Savages is wildly entertaining in the moment -and it really was- it’s kind of  embarrassing  after the fact.

Kristal: I was mostly troubled by the film. O is this hot girl with no discernible wants or needs of her own who’s happy to just act as an available set of orifices for her two boyfriends who obviously value such a unicorn of a girl that they’re willing to fight a Mexican drug cartel for her. It’s just tiresome to me and I can’t get behind a movie that portrays women this way.

Trista: Oh. Huh. Now I feel like a bad feminist. Maybe I glossed over this because Blake Lively herself is the perfect incarnation of the woman you’re describing and so I never even registered that this was a thing. I mean, she’s really just a MacGuffin, ya? Her only purpose is to move the plot along. I did think that Elena (Hayek) was a good foil for this, challenging the vapid unicorn-y-ness of O.

Brandy: I’ve got to agree with Kristal on O. What are you supposed to say about a movie that centres around two pot heads going head to head with a beheading cartel for what is, basically, their favourite sex toy?

Kristal: The writers could just as easily have made  her Chon and Ben’s sister or someone else they cherished enough to fight for. Instead, they chose to perpetuate the slutty earth mother stereotype so they could shoehorn in a few sex scenes that actually work to undermine the bond between the three main characters since it makes it seem as though that’s all that’s important in their relationship.

Brandy: I would like to point out that, hilariously, on the Savages poster Blake Lively is wearing a mask, further  obviating  her relevance as anything other than T&A.

Kristal: Elena is just as much of a stereotype: an overly dramatic harpy. Oliver Stone’s women usually fall into either the “bitch” or “whore” category. That’s the extent of his insight into the female population – okay, sometimes they’re bitchy whores.

Brandy: Ultimately, any woman who sees this movie and experiences one moment of pleasure will have to question her commitment to feminism.

Kristal: Even worse, the only two major characters who suffered any major consequences were the women. All of the men got away pretty much scot-free, thus providing us with yet another thing that tends to happen to women in movies: they’re punished for being a) sexually free or b) a ball buster. It’s two-for-one in this case.

Brandy: A review I read noted that maybe Elena should stop fretting over two So-Cal goofwads and her scholastically achieving daughter and focus on her own failing business. That statement made me laugh out loud. Of course, that wouldn’t make sense because why would a whore, a bitch, or a bitchy whore worry about business?

Trista: There’s a lot of going on about how Elena needs Chon and Ben’s expertise, but she never actually uses it. I would think that if she was going to use it, she would be taking them in and making them work for her, not keeping the girl. And now that I think about it, O having to go get them is a much more interesting movie.

Kristal: On the plus side for me was John Travolta who did pretty well with his all-exposition dialogue. It sounded almost natural coming out of his mouth. And Aaron Johnson is lovely and very definitely one of the best young actors out there. It’s too bad he had so little to work with. It’s a testament to him that he made his character feel whole despite it.

Brandy: Benicio Del Toro  also delivers a deliciously cheesy performance as a moustache-twirling psychopath until you realize he’s a moustache-twirling psychopath rapist, and then things become a little uncomfortable.

Trista: I love that Blake Lively continues to play sad, vapid women and that Taylor Kitsch is the new Keanu Reeves, but most of all, I love that Aaron Johnson was the only person in this film who actually had a character arc, and about whom I cared. I also want to do a shout out Benicio Del Toro who is SO INCREDIBLY TALENTED that for the first time in cinema history, he actually made me root for a rapist. Overall, I love that it embraced its ridiculousness.

Final Thoughts

Trista: Savages is an interesting look at the kidnap genre. First, it’s an Oliver Stone film, so it’s about eight hours long. Second, it has some pretty severe issues with women, creating one martyr and one vapid sex toy, so liking this film will make you feel like a bad feminist. (Full disclosure: I DO feel like a bad feminist.) The script seems crafted from moments Stone thought he could make look good, and it certainly suffers for it. Even though it is hopelessly flawed, I enjoyed almost every second of this film for its perverse, uninspired look at commercialism in America today.

[rating: 3 Stars]

Brandy: Savages is Oliver Stone, just being Oliver Stone. There’s a big point here – I think it’s something about the war on drugs or the vapidness of consumer culture or something – but whatever that point was supposed to be, Stone just goes skipping across the surface of it. If you’re looking for an over-long, drug/violence/sex fuelled piece of movie candy, then by all means, Savages is the summer movie to see. If you want your  Shakespearean  allusions to resolve into something substantial, wait for the DVD release and a boring day.

[rating: 2 stars] grudgingly

Kristal: Savages is like a telenovela on crack which would normally put it in so-bad-it’s-good standing, but Oliver Stone’s issues with writing female characters rear their ugly heads a few too many times for me to be able to recommend this film as a guilty pleasure.

[rating: 1 star]