A fine reputation drops like a Stone

MOVIES: Ludicrous drugs war movie is a stinker from a director coasting on fumes of previous successes, writes George Byrne

George Byrne

SAVAGES Thriller. Starring Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, John Travolta, Emile Hirsch. Directed by Oliver Stone. Cert 16

What on earth has happened to Oliver Stone? The tyro who burst to prominence with his scripts for Midnight Express and Scarface before his directorial career really kicked into gear with the 1986 double-whammy of Salvador and Platoon appears to be coasting on the fumes of what was once a kinetic and engaging yet confrontational style.

One could point to the utterly misguided and essentially foolish 2004 epic Alexander as the point where Stone lost it completely as he's been on a truly dreadful run of movies since.

Certainly, he'd had misfires in the past -- notably JFK, The Doors and Heaven and Earth -- but even when he appeared to be simply flinging visual and narrative ideas at the wall at least some of them stuck. World Trade Center, W and the ill-judged Wall Street sequel Money Never Sleeps represent a downward curve on an erratic career graph, but he's plummeted towards the baseline with Savages. A story about a lucrative cannabis-growing operation in California coming under pressure from a ruthless Mexican drug cartel should have been a decent fit for Stone to regain his mojo, offering the opportunity for flashy visuals and splashes of splatter.

Instead what we have is a ragbag of well-worn riffs bolted over a script so ludicrous it beggars belief.

At the centre of the film -- and the core of the problem -- are the three central characters. Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) run the operation and are also engaged in an ongoing menage a trois with Ophelia (Blake Lively).

Ben is a Buddhist and organises charity efforts in the Third World while Chon is a former SEAL who still has memories of Iraq running through his head. We know this from the off courtesy of a laughable narration from Ophelia (who's intended as some sort of stoner dream girl but merely comes across like a wasted Phoebe from Friends).

Anyway, we have cartoon Mexican baddies, with Benicio Del Toro apparently impersonating Brando in The Godfather and Salma Hayek wearing Uma Thurman's wig from Pulp Fiction while John Travolta minces in every now and then as a corrupt DEA agent. Not even graphic violence can raise Savages above the risible because of the daftness of the script, the blandness of the characters and an ending which looks a dead-cert to rank as the worst of the year. Even a Quentin Tarantino movie would be more bearable than this ... and that's a long way for Oliver Stone's star to fall.


NOW IS GOOD Drama. Starring Dakota Fanning, Paddy Considine, Olivia Williams, Kaya Scodelario, Jeremy Irvine. Directed by Ol Parker. Cert PG

Essaying a decent English accent, Dakota Fanning does her best as the dislikeable Tessa, a troublesome teenager who discovers she has leukaemia and is determined to experience as much as she can before she dies, in the company of her best friend Zoe (Kaya Scodelario) and the handsome boy next door Adam (Jeremy Irvine). It's essentially The Bucket List with a brat and while Paddy Considine and Olivia Williams bring their usual quality game to proceedings nothing really elevates Now is Good above any other Disease of the Week movie you've ever seen.


DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL Documentary. Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland. Cert 12A

Over the course of a remarkable life, Diana Vreeland effectively invented the concept of the lavish photoshoot during her 25 years as fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar before moving to become editor-in-chief of Vogue during the Swinging Sixties.

By all accounts a tyrannical boss, she comes across in the interviews here as a tough old broad with a penchant for great yarns and name-dropping on an Olympian scale.

Anyone who can casually slip Diaghilev, Wallis Simpson, Hitler, Lauren Bacall, Jackie Kennedy and Mick Jagger into a conversation and not have you bat an eyelid counts as a raconteur in my book. Well worth a look.