These contrasting dramas have their moments but are sunk by insurmountable flaws

FILM
SAVAGES
Cert 15 | **

Oliver Stone’s latest follows the progress of cannabis farmers Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and the beautiful beach bum girlfriend that they share, O (Blake Lively). Bound by a mutual devotion to O and getting stoned, Ben and Chon live in hazy harmony in their massive cannabis farm overlooking Laguna beach. That is until a fearsome Mexican drug cartel – fronted by Benicio Del Toro’s Lado and run by Salma Hayek’s Elena – kidnaps O and threatens to kill her if they refuse their business offer.

True to its subject, a hedonistic spirit runs through the film. However, it fails to deliver the pleasures promised by its lurid visuals. Savages is not quite tense, sexy, or violent enough to feel truly savage, and it is beset by a number of flaws that make the whole thing feel superficial and muddled.

The most striking problem is O’s languid voiceover, which Stone uses to introduce characters, set up the story and plug holes in the plot. It replaces the need to develop any of the characters through dialogue or interaction, and as a result everyone appears as 2D California caricatures: beautiful and empty, like a Hollister advert. A few performances – notably Hayek’s – almost make up for the structural flaws but Savages remains muddled and anticlimactic.

FILM
UNTOUCHABLE
Cert 15 | ***

Untouchable arrives in Britain having broken various box office records in France and around the world. It’s easy to see why. The combination of classy direction, good performances and saccharine sentimentality makes it a real crowd-pleaser, although audiences in Britain will be less forgiving of its various racial faux pas.

The story begins with African immigrant, Driss (Omar Sy, pictured), applying for a job as carer for paralyzed aristocrat Philippe (Francois Cluzet). Driss doesn’t really want the job; he is only applying so that he can get the third rejection that entitles him to his monthly benefit. However, his sassy attitude and deliberate rudeness appeals to the rich invalid who is bored by the deferential pity shown by the other applicants.

Francois Cluzet expertly employs eyebrow twitches and half-smiles in a deft performance as the paralyzed Philippe, and Omar Sy is immensely watchable as the irreverent ex-con who can’t believe his luck at having found himself in this luxurious world. The two have real chemistry and good comic repartee.

It is, however, unavoidably problematic that Untouchable is about a white man teaching a black man how to not be benefit-dependent and a black man teaching a white man how to be less uptight and more soulful. No British or American film could feature race so prominently without commenting on it in some way. But for all its embarrassing racial gaffes, Untouchable comes across as naïve rather than racist, and never looks less than beautiful.