Blake Lively has taken a lot of heat for her wooden, mumbly performances in flicks like The Town and Green Lantern. That's why many an eyebrow was raised when acclaimed director Oliver Stone cast her as the female lead (and narrator!) of his latest film, Savages.
After all, it's one thing to have mumbly eye candy in a supporting role where she can't do too much damage, a la The Town, but it's quite another thing to have mumbly eye candy basically carrying the whole flick.
Thankfully, Stone also enlisted veteran actors Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro to help shoulder the load. Both are captivating in their roles as explosive, unpredictable cartel badasses. Their performances alone make the movie worth seeing, and their amazing hair doesn't hurt, either, with super-sleek straight black tresses and an unruly, filthy mullet, respectively.
Hopefully Lively was taking notes during her scenes with these two masters. While her performance is markedly improved from her distractingly bad stint in The Town (she actually enunciates this time!), she still has a lot to learn. Her limited range is all the more amplified when she's sharing the screen with the likes of Hayek and Del Toro, who can both segue from witty barbs to menacing threats at the drop of a hat.
Lively, on the other hand, seems to only have one angle down pat: alluring, entitled pretty girl. This may help explain why she's been able to successfully pull off five seasons as Serena van der Woodsen on Gossip Girl. Unfortunately, this stunted range doesn't do her any favors as Ophelia in Savages, where she only comes across as mildly inconvenienced by the threat of imminently losing her fingers or the prospect of sleeping in a dirty cage for a year.
Likewise, when her character finally meets the terrifying cartel leader played by Hayek, Lively seems more indifferent than frightened. When you come face-to-face with the head of one of the world's most notorious crime rings, known for taking pleasure in torturing people, you should be shaking so hard you can barely stand. Instead, Lively strolls in, head high, like she owns the place. We do see a few tears out of her every now and then, but they're always "pretty" tears. Not the body-wrenching, mucus-y sobs one might expect from someone in Ophelia's situation. Y'know, being held captive by a freakin' DRUG CARTEL and all.
During her steamy love scenes with Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson, Lively appears to have taken her cues from soft-core porn stars. Her ecstatic "o" face and satisfied moans are a bit over the top, but she certainly portrays "intense love" better than "overwhelming fear," all the while maintaining her no-nudity clause.
Lively isn't likely to be in the running for an Oscar anytime soon, but I'll give her an A for effort for Savages, mostly for overcoming her natural inclination to mumble, which must have been quite trying. And yes, I have set a very different bar for her than I have for all of the other actors. Look at me, giving Lively points for speaking like a proper human without even taking a moment to give Johnson (a Brit) props for pulling off a California surfer-dude accent. Well done, m'lord. Spot on.