Savages surprised me. I’d put off seeing this for the sole fact that I assumed it would be too much mindless sex, drugs, and violence. You can still cheek those off; plenty of all three. Aside from being highly entertaining, enough is still present to push this past other B-movie’s I’ve seen this year. Savages isn’t terribly original, but minor tweaks shake things up a bit. Oliver Stone is an interesting director to say the least. He can be controversial and hit and miss for me. Platoon, Wall Street and JFK were great. Stone hasn’t had much success in the 2000s though. W. had potential, in the end it never meshed together. Alexander was just a straight up failed attempt; I try to be nice to movies, but man was that awful. When I first saw the trailer a small part of me was intrigued. It was Stone going back to that edgy film making he used in Natural Born Killers – I remain mixed on that today. A lot of flaws can be found, but strangely, things kept pulling me back in a big way.
Savages revolves around two best friends, Ben and Chon (Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch); two top pot growers who provide some of the best in the business. Ben is a Berkeley graduate with degrees in business and botany, and Chon is a fromer Navy SEAL. The two run a successful organization, based in Laguna Beach, CA, and share the love of their lives, O (Black Lively), in a three-way relationship. With the help of a corrupt DEA Agent, Denis (John Travolta), all three of them have had a good life together. Things become complicated when Ben and Chon are approached by Elena Sanchez (Salma Hayek) – head of the Baja Cartel. Her proposal is for them to join her business. Ben and Chon refuse, this leads Elena to send one of her men – Lado (Benicio Del Toro) – to kidnap O. With O hostage the guys agree to be part of her empire. The deal is a three year one and O will be given back in one. Ben and Chon do not take this lightly however and choose to fight discretely to get their girl back.
Shane Salerno, Don Winslow and Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay; I have a feeling a majority was under Stone’s influence if not pretty much all him. Let me get the negatives out of the way first and foremost. Some of the narration goes wrong with laughably bad dialog; mainly in the beginning. With a movie like this there are bad lines here and there, a character not fleshed out enough and some small plot inconveniences. I love how the negotiations were handled; that’s been done to death in movie’s countless times. Here it was engaging listing to all the details and seeing each side try to out think each other. The ending has ruined the movie for some, but I believe Stone did something good with it. Instead of being conventional he does something different (can’t explain why because I would have to spoil). Morality is also touched on. All these people can be viewed as evil, but some have good aspects. Conversations between Elena and O, Ben and Chon, Denis and Lado, are fantastic at times. Any humor involved is hit and miss.
The performances were great (with two exceptions) across the board. Taylor Kitsch has been in three leading roles this year. He was bland in John Carter and Battleship wasn’t his fault. On one hand, I can say he gave a good performance, but he’s really playing the same character in his previous two. The only difference is here Kitsch gets better material to work with. Aaron Johnson is one of the stand-outs. He’s shown some versatility with Nowhere Boy, Kick-Ass and now Savages. Johnson actually brings something to the character with a sense of vulnerability. I actually genuinely cared for Ben. Blake Lively is by far the worst of the cast. She looks great, but her narration isn’t handled all that well – not all bad though. Also, her line delivery could have used some work. She’s solid in stretches, still, everyone out-shined her.
It was a joy to watch Benicio Del Toro. You never know what his character is going to do – Del Toro plays it very well. After seeing The Wolfman a few years back I wondered if I’d ever see at least a fun performance by Del Toro. Thankfully, that happened two years later. John Travolta hasn’t been great in the 2000s. Bolt is the exception. Finally, Travolta is given an actual script and roles with it. He steals every single scene he’s in and has one outstanding moment. Salma Hayek is beyond great. She chews scenery like no one has in a while. She was an absolute pleasure to watch. Hayek would have been a better fit to play both the queens in both of the Snow White movies this year. Emile Hirsch and Uma Thurman are good too.
The cinematography was held back for a Stone film. The right amount of detail was given to the give the movie a solid look. I liked the soundtrack as well; didn’t really attribute to anything in the end. I may be alone on truly enjoying Savages. If that makes me a savage, then so be it.