Thursday, June 21, 2012

Oliver Stone's New Look for 'Savages'

Love the new clip. The thing I notice though, more than can be picked up in trailers, is the look -- fresh, contemporary. A departure for Stone whose camera is usually predictable, smooth, still or with a silky glide, and commercially safe.

The camera work in 'Savages' is close, dynamic, disorienting when called for, and very fresh stylistically without being gimmicky.

For instance, starting at 12 seconds, the way the camera hovers over Lado's (Benicio Del Toro) shoulder while Elena (Salma Hayek) eyes him -- that just isn't a classic technique. The techno soundtrack confirms a new approach.

Then, at :20, the fake lens flare (the sun is high and behind the camera so flare isn't possible), accompanied by screechy sound effect no less, is straight out of today's indie filmmaking (or even hyper-stylized music videos) and used to visually punctuate goings on but can't be found in Stone's earlier work. Lado adjusting his sunglasses to add visual splash to the other side of the frame isn't the kind of thing you'll find in Stone's earlier movies, either.

At :23 a person enters frame between Ophelia (Blake Lively) and Lado. Without re-watching everything Stone has directed I think it's safe to say this isn't usual. If a character enters a frame it's at least done in a much cleaner way -- say from the side -- or not at all.

The glance Elena shoots Lado after Ophelia confirms she wasn't mistreated is a subtlety Stone probably wouldn't have wanted to include in the past. In fact, I think he has worked to keep such stuff out of the frame for the sake of clean lines. It's safe to say Stone's screenplays spell out (in dialogue) what characters are thinking.

Camera starting at 1:44 is tight and characters are partially blocked by plants, which amps the tension visually. You don't see characters blocked by much of anything in Stone's other movies. Shooting at an angle strengthens the effect.

Also, editing during this part is dynamic. Stone went with 'incorrect' angles to keep the audience off balance. At 1:50 when Elena dictates how the men will pay her back the $3m -- the angle on her is wrong. It's the opposite side from which we would expect to view her. I don't think Stone has done this in his previous films.

Also, this is the first time we see Elena from a lower perspective, instead of from well above eye level. At 1:57 we move closer and lower, and tilt is added. Not very classical camera work.

I love the look and can't wait to see the movie.

Here's Stone talking about the production and his style choices.

Really, 'Savages' is looking great and I wouldn't be surprised if it did good enough business to warrant making the sequel. Here's a bit from Janet Maslin's review of 'The Kings of Cool' by Don Winslow: 
  • Mr. Winslow’s keen attention to drug culture isn’t going to keep readers away from him. He’s too damn good to be polarizing. His characters are smart about their self-interest. His dialogue is tight, laconic and razor sharp; if Elmore Leonard or Lee Child discovered surfing, they might sound something like this. And even when he shows off — he flits occasionally into quasi-poetry and ratchets up dramatic impact with brief snippets of screenwriting — he gets away with it.

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