Movie Review: Savages
Jul 7, 2012 / 11:00 am
When Oliver Stone is on top of his game, like he was when he made JFK and Born on the Fourth of July, he can be a heck of a filmmaker. Unfortunately he has also made some duds like W and Alexander that make you wonder if he's even trying that hard anymore. Savages, his new blood spattered crime drama about the world of drugs, falls somewhere in between. It's a brutally violent, lurid and mostly compelling tale of sex, drugs, money and power. The main issue I had with the film however is the ending...but I'll get to that in a bit.
The film opens in typical noir style with O - short for Ophelia (Blake Lively) - narrating the story of Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), best friends and business partners who happen to grow the best pot that money can buy. Not only do they share an oceanside home in Laguna Beach with each other, but they also happen to share O between them. You see, she's in love with both of them. Life seems just peachy keen until the Mexican Baja Cartel, led by the ruthless Elena (Salma Hayek), decides to move in on them and demands that they partner up together. When the pair decline the offer, Elena - who does not like to be said no to - goes after their weakness by having her trusted associate, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), kidnap O in order to force Ben and Chon's hand. Now they must do everything in their power to get her back, and needless to say this won't be an easy task. Things turn pretty ugly from this point on.
Savages is unflinching in its depictions of violence, and the grisly images of torture and murders might turn some people's stomachs. But I have no doubt that these drug cartels probably operate this way and that it's not that much of a stretch from reality. Stone definitely doesn't pull any punches with this film. You just have to ask yourself whether you garner any entertainment value from seeing such brutal behaviour on the big screen. If it doesn't bother you then Savages might be a film that you will want to see.
The performances in Savages are pretty solid for the most part. The standout roles though are Benicio Del Toro, who is deliciously evil as the assassin Lado, Salma Hayek, who gets to chew a lot of scenery as the wicked drug boss, and John Travolta, who plays a really colourful, duplicitous DEA agent on the take.
Oliver Stone shoots the film in a stylish way by saturating it with sun drenched colours in order to make the viewer feel the searing heat and sweat of each situation. He stages a couple of spectacular action sequences as well to get the adrenaline pumping.
The film does have its flaws though. It runs a touch too long and then there's that ending that I mentioned earlier. This is likely going to divide and frustrate audiences. Savages is an intense crime thriller that builds to a raging and tragic climax only to have Stone pull the rug out from under you. I won't give it away but needless to say I thought it was a bit of a cop-out ending where Stone could have his cake and eat it too.
Even though Stone clearly has an anti-war-on-drugs, pro-leagalization message in the film, he doesn't beat us over the head with it and avoids his usual soap-boxing. Instead he's delivered a sordid piece of pulp fiction that despite its flaws is still a really solid piece of entertainment.
If violent crime fiction is your thing then you might want to check out Savages.
I give it a 7 out of 10.
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