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7 Movies like Savages: Californian Noir

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Andy_McKendry_itcher_contributorHere are some movies like Savages (Oliver Stone, 2012) for fans of quirky action narratives. Marijuana, Navy Seals, and a non-traditional romance mark this film out as something unique in a genre that’s often marred by formulaic writing. ~ Andy McKendry

Savages isn’t a perfect film but it is a return to Oliver Stone’s darker filmic work. It’s a pulpy conflicted story about two Laguna Beach entrepreneurs, Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch). Ben is a Buddhist, Chon is a former Navy SEAL, and together they run a lucrative marijuana business and share a girlfriend (Blake Lively) too.Their very specific Eden comes under threat from a Mexican gang forcing Ben to change his ways and Chon to revisit his past. Let’s look at some other movies like Savages and explore the Californian Noir sub genre further.
‘Chinatown’ (Roman Polanski, 1974)

Starring Jack Nicholson as Los Angeles private eye J.J. “Jake” Gittes, Chinatown is a story of endemic corruption and abuse of power from some of the cities most notable figures. Jake investigates what he believes to be an infidelity case but discovers a much darker plot with more frightening possibilities.

Faye Dunaway plays Mrs MulwrayChinatown’s femme fatale. She embodies some key characteristics of the narrative trope and her performance is flawless. She bounces well off Jack Nicholson’s Jake and Chinatown is a well-executed film noir.

California’s sun kissed setting is a great location to film a noir and the contrast provides a welcome sense of irony; Chinatown stands as one of the better examples of this particular sub genre.

‘Inherent Vice’ (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)

The narrative follows a private detective called Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) in Anderson’s latest movie Inherent Vice. Larry lives his life under the heady influence of marijuana smoke and the confused and muddled narrative reflects the effects of the drug.

Paul Thomas Anderson is fast becoming one of the better directors working in Hollywood and his latest film is both baffling and intriguing. There are no clear answers in Larry’s world and audiences will be left with a similar impression of the film itself.

Inherent Vice is a surreal wash of colours that fails to paint a particularly clear picture and like Savages, the sunny well lit Californian world belies a dark reality.

‘Double Indemnity’ (Billy Wilder, 1944)

This is a classic film in the noir genre and it has similarities to Stone’s Savages. The narrative unfolds with the use of flashbacks and it utilises perhaps more niche storytelling devices to articulate its dark, corrupt, and LA set tale.

The plot follows an insurance salesman who is talked into committing fraud and the ensuing chaos that the action brings. This is firmly a noir piece, the story takes place in California, and Savages can certainly trace its lineage back to Wilder’s epic.

Double Indemnity is a defining film in the noir genre and its dark heart provides ample scope for exploring the corrupt nature of humanity.

‘Brick’ (Rian Johnson, 2006)

Joseph Gordon Levitt stars as a teenaged private eye in Rian Johnson’s Brick. Playing the role of Bredan Frye, Levitt delivers clipped lines reminiscent of noir storytelling but set in a contemporary high school.

It’s an unusual take on a tried formula and this neo noir is classy, slick, and much wiser than the setting would suggest. Murder, drugs, and a dangerous criminal mastermind are just dangers of the job and Brendan takes it all in his inquisitive stride.

A more overtly stylised movie than Savages, Brick delves into the uneasy half-light that so often colours the noir genre.


If You like Savages You Will Also like…

Californian Noir is a particular sub genre but there are many films that use the format to tell their stories. Let’s consider a few more films similar to Savages that are set within the same sort of seedy world of gangsters, violence and sunny skies.

‘Pain and Gain’ (Michael Bay, 2013)

A story of a trio of hapless bodybuilders, Pain and Gain is a surprisingly good (and original) film to come from Michael Bay. It’s a departure from his usual blockbuster fare and it’s dark, funny, and at times witty.

In both Savages and Pain and Gain the criminals are inept and completely out of their depth but Pain and Gain is a less serious film.

‘Drive’ (Nicholas Winding Refyn, 2011)

Ryan Gosling stars in Drive and his character is a movie stunt driver by day and a getaway driver for hire at night. It’s a postmodern movie and it actually reads quite like a Western – the car being an updated version of the horse.

But it’s a film that also has a distinctive noir twist and the driver speaks in monosyllabic sentences and the lighting used is evocative of the genre too.

Drive is a B movie in the Californian noir genre when compared to the glitzy Savages but it hits just as hard and its narrative is convincingly executed.

‘Lords of Dogtown’ (Catherine Hardwick, 2005)

A dramatized account of the lives of the Z-Boys skate team, Lords of Dogtown is a distinctly Californian tale of surfers, waves, and skateboards. Not quite a noir piece but one with a similar tone to Savages, Lords of Dogtown is cool, touching, and vibrant.

This is a skating film that will make everyone wish that they could skate and it contrasts the alluring side of Californian life with the bad.


My Thoughts

Californian Noir is a genre that uses its composition to contrast the brightly lit settings with the lives of the criminals living there. I think it’s a great sub genre and if I was to provide one recommendation from this list I would suggest watching Inherent Vice.It’s a film that some may find frustrating but its narrative is intricate, textured, and hallucinatory and well worth experiencing.Let me know your thoughts with a comment below.


I’m a writer. It’s what I do and what I′ve always done. As a child I wrote on walls with a crayon. Now I write for websites. I write for my blog where I post reviews of films, TV, and occasionally write short stories and I also run a writer and illustration collective. Whatever I do involves words, and plenty of them. I’m an avid cinephile, a screenwriter, and I love telling stories. I have an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University, UK, and I work on a freelance basis and drink far too much coffee.
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