Sorry to start with a rant … oh wait, who am I kidding … no I’m not. To say that Oliver Stone’s new film “Savages” is overly violent is a little silly. Why do you ask … ? Well let’s look at the source material. Mexican drug cartels are crazy, evil organizations that not only spread illegal narcotics across multiple countries, but also corrupt, hijack and murder thousands of people a year. Mexico’s drug issues make a beautiful country a hotbed for crime and making it extremely difficult for regular citizens to live a daily existence. While Good Morning America chooses to dedicate itself to an inside look at Katie Holmes’ secret separation and divorce from Tom Cruise by getting every possible interview with every possible moron caught up in their lives, a cartel operative named “La Bonita” (an alleged member of La Familia) was picked up by authorities and in Texas, Jose Trevino Morales (brother to to the alleged leaders of Zetas – arguably Mexico’s most powerful cartel) was detained for his alleged involvement in a money-laundering scheme based in Oklahoma. Both of these organizations, La Familia and Zetas brutally kill, terrorize and spread fear across our borders and Oliver Stone’s film is too violent? Regularly, decapitated corpses of rivals cartel members, unsupportive community members and anyone else who gets in their way are unearthed and this film is too violent?
I know, I know … not the right place to make my personal believes front and center … but I’m calling BS.
Anyway … on with the review.
Drugs, money, sex … more sex and death. Not completely the basis for Don Winslow’s 2010 novel, but a vicious backdrop for a new age love story. Three friends – two men and one woman – share a bond that while highly sexual, proves stronger than just kinky evening play.
Best friends for life, Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) build a drug empire in Southern California that is equal parts “Breaking Bad” and “Weeds.” Living a lifestyle of freedom and entrepreneurship, cannibus creativity has established the doobie duo as the supreme vendors for high-end kush in the area. Two different sides of the spectrum, Chon’s soldier skills make him the perfect enforcer while Ben’s peaceful, scientific smarts keep the operation growing. They both share a deep love for the same woman – Ophelia or O as she is referred to throughout the film (Blake Lively.) Odd yes, but somehow, it all works.
This is where the whole rant at the beginning fits it.
Due to their amazing success, a Northern Mexico Baja Cartel, lead by Elena “La Reina”(Salma Hayek) and her enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro), have made an offer that has no room for negotiation. Let the bloodshed begin.
Extremely intriguing, the trio’s story will have you from the beginning. While Lively’s narration is slightly annoying and very cliche at first, the characters are all introduced in dynamic or interesting ways. Especially our two leads. In all aspects of how they present themselves and how they are presented, it’s clear that their success is based on the duality of their personalities and their affection for one another. I found myself caring about them very quickly and wanting them to do what’s right in this world of wrong.
On the flipside, Hayek and Del Toro are viscous destroyers and for most of the film fantastic. Del Toro plays evil so well and every scene he is in commands attention. Morally corrupt, the character Lado is moves like a predator and is as unpredictable as he is deadly. Hayek on the other hand is soft and extremely beautiful on the outside but internally hardcore and able to delete anything she sees fit. Calmly she can be the elegant lady while striking fear in her soldiers or enemies with a snap of a finger. Awesome.
Filled with characters, the rest of the film is sprinkled with co-star goodness. Not just pretty faces, each character introduced has a purpose and is reasonably part of a bigger picture. John Travolta shows up as a double-dealing DEA agent with an all too-real for many people backstory, while Emile Hirsch, Leonard Roberts and Joel David Moore keep the party going.
Less “Oliver Stone-esque” and more Tony Scott, “Savages” appealed to me probably because it was very “True Romance”-like. Lots of solid characters, quirky dialogue, violence and an odd love story all compiling into that one final scene that could tip to tragedy. While easily the techniques Stone uses harken back to “Natural Born Killers” and “Any Given Sunday,” the hyper realism of some of the scenes seemed more like a cross between “Man on Fire” and “Domino” with a lot less MTV mixed in.
A little too long for my taste, overuse of the word savages throughout and a twist that will either get your eyes rolling or make you want more, “Savages” is an extremely well-made film with a lot more pros than cons. All the leads give some fantastic performances (thank you Taylor Kitsch, this almost makes up for “Battleship” and “John Carter” … almost) and a timely take on current cheeba events, help make this film highly engaging, informative and a quality film to watch. While I don’t really get the appeal of Lively, I would still give positive marks for her performance as her character is pivotal to the flow of the film – just don’t get put off by her narration.
Not even close to skimming the surface of the modern mayhem involved with drug trafficking and very pale in comparison to the real violence happening every day, there is intense levels of broccoli business that many people may have a hard time watching so beware. However, if you are looking for a film with a solid filmmaker behind it and that isn’t a reboot of something we’ve all already seen, then go a little native this weekend.
4 out 5 Dia de los Muertos Masks