It’s probably not a good sign that the poster for Oliver Stone’s Savages makes a perfect column subject for Easter Sunday. By most evidence, this isn’t a movie that wants to be associated with jelly beans and Marshmallow Peeps; however, the egg-dye color palette of one-sheet number one would beg to differ. Cut this image along the lines that divvy it into seven slices, and you’ve got instant sleeves for the hard-boiled beauties you dunked in vinegar last night. This isn’t the first time a poster for an Oliver Stone film used vibrant hues to herald something largely dark (the ads for The Doors and Natural Born Killers went that route at one stage or another), but it is the first time the poster seems wildly out of step with what it’s selling. Yes, Blake Lively’s hippie-ish character, O, is prone to snorting coke, but that’s not exactly the sort of candy this glossy collage appears to promise.
Based on Don Winslow’s lauded 2010 novel of the same name, Savages is a crime-filled, drug-loaded drama unfolding across sun-soaked California and Mexico. Its cast? A bevy of ’90s megastars who dabbled on the pulpy fringes (John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Salma Hayek, Benicio del Toro), and a smattering of camera-ready, pore-free, in-demand hotties (Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Emile Hirsch). On second thought, perhaps that color scheme isn’t so off the mark after all.
Apt or not, it isn’t the purples, pinks, yellows, and greens that make the poster look so tacky. It’s the overall layout, which anyone who’s paid the slightest attention to movie cover art in the last decade will instantly notice is an inexcusable ripoff of the we’re-all-in-this-together ads for Babel. From varying locale snapshots to balanced subject symmetry to that unmistakable stacked white font, it’s the same design, unworthy of a pass simply because it saturates its hues. The Babel poster at least evoked something meaningful with its text, those precarious letters coolly nodding to the tower of the title. Unless there’s some reason why each still houses its specific letter, all the Savages title boasts is a nifty correspondence of its As and V.
The similarity is so distracting that it hardly seems worth it to bother reading into the poster’s imagery. The synopsis tells you Kitsch is a pot-grower who goes searching for Lively when she’s kidnapped by a Mexican drug cartel. Typecasting and a nasty knife suggest del Toro is your head baddie, and that No Country for Old Men-style shot suggests a desert-set climax. The masked gunman may well be Kitsch’s protag partner, Johnson, and the ageless Hayek could be in bed with Travolta’s obviously crooked DEA agent. As for the voodoo Grim Reaper at bottom right? Call him an appropriate answer to the skeleton shooter. Looking to channel elements of films like Natural Born Killers and U-Turn, Savages seems to be Stone’s most promising film in years, a departure from cuddly crap that’s marred his reputation as a self-professed button-pusher. But if one were to go by its poster alone, the director’s latest is highly derivative, and the filmic equivalent of a gumball machine.