The best thing I can say about Savages is that I liked it better than Wall Street 2, but maybe not. Savages shares some lineage with other Oliver Stone projects but it doesn’t rise very far - thanks to a ménage a trois of main characters that don’t connect, a less-than-threatening villain, and a poorly conceived ending. It is shot beautifully and well directed, but the parts never gelled for me.
O (Blake Lively), short for Ophelia, is the woman of both Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson). They lead an idyllic Laguna Beach lifestyle thanks to Chon and Ben’s business, the marijuana trade. Chon is an ex-military man who served in Afghanistan which allowed him access to some killer seed that Ben’s horticultural expertise grew into some awesome bud.
Chon is the muscle to Ben’s Buddhist Zen philosophy, they may be opposites but they both share O. That paradise is interrupted by drug kingpin Elena (Salma Hayek) and her enforcer Lado (Benicio del Toro).
This Mexican cartel wants to take over Chon and Ben’s operations and isn’t taking no for an answer. When they boys refuse the offer, the cartel kidnaps O and they’ll do anything to get her back with the help of shifty DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta).
Some interesting dichotomies are at work here. Our golden pot boys call the cartel savages when they chainsaw the heads off of some unfortunates and Elena calls them savages for sharing a woman. The trick may be is that everyone in our sight is savages to some degree. Some more than others, but one of the problems I had is that our main villain isn’t savage enough.
Hayak isn’t a terrible actress but drug kingpin Elena is more interested in mommy issues than any sort of threat. These types of adventure films need a driving force and threat to keep the adrenaline pumping and Elena isn’t it. It may have been colorful to write her the way she is, but it never catches.
Del Toro is more the traditional route but he is more of the secondary thug, but he does fulfill his role with gusto. Our trio of leads also never really takes off. They’re pretty to look at, maybe too much, and live a lavish lifestyle. It never helps that Lively is saddled with fortune cookie narration that is supposed to sound philosophical (maybe after you’ve toked a few) but comes off as pretentious drivel.
Everyone is buff and has great teeth, but I guess they can afford it since they make so much cash for their ganja. We never really see the dark side of the dope industry, in fact Ben gives laptops and clean water to African kids so I guess we should all plant.
It’s all a fantasy that I was never really drawn into. I might have liked it more if we weren’t treated to an ending that is reversed for a happily ever after redo. I will say that it is shot beautifully so those backdrops and beautiful people do look so. Stone still has a steady hand as far as direction goes but the storyline was certainly no Natural Born Killers or Scarface (which Stone wrote). You also get an unrated cut that adds about 10 minutes but doesn’t change that ending, most likely just adds more violence.
Savages is presented in a 1080p transfer (2.40:1). Special features include a solo commentary from Stone and a group one with producers Eric Kopeloff, Shane Salerno, and Mortiz Borman, novelist/screenwriter Don Winslow and production designer Tomas Voth, 16 minutes of deleted scenes, and a 33 minute “Stone Cold Savages” making of. You also get a DVD and a digital copy.
I am a fan of Oliver Stone, but don’t think Savages is his best effort. Better that it is not a sequel to a much better film but the characters and too young actors never really grabbed me. I thought it was beautifully shot but that ending shot it in the foot in the end.
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