Oliver Stone’s vicious and gory take on the drug trade that’s guilty of being overdone. Savages is hard to rally behind because it has a gallery of unlikeable characters – the title is spot on. But they are entertaining amoral specimens, and Stone provides a glimpse into the unsavory world of southern California buds and the Tijuana cartel. I’m withdrawn initially by marijuana dealer protagonists Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson, whom are Laguna Beach surfs-up types without a single moral marble in their heads. Blake Lively, as Ophelia (O for short), is a shared sex bunny between the boys – she gets herself kidnapped by a competing cartel.
No clean getaways – boys Chon, Ben, and their playmate bunny, who were this close to getting out. I do think it’s silly that O gets herself caged up, since getting herself kidnapped could have been prevented. But without the contrivance, you wouldn’t have a plot.
Chon is an Afghanistan war veteran who wants to go to war with Hayek, who is part Cleopatra, part Queen Elizabeth I, with inglorious Scarface written all over her. Ben is the pacifist (yeah, right! not for long!) who simply wants to pay a ransom at hopefully ten million. Benicio del Toro does his Benicio del Scary thing by going psychopath on anybody who displays weakness. Demian Bichir is the best dressed gangster in the lot. Badass John Travolta is a DEA agent who is supposed to be on the side of justice, but seems more on the side of money. Emile Hirsch, hysterically bike-sporty, plays a whiz money launderer with a genius for erasing trails.
In addition to the gallery of badass, engrossing characters, Stone revitalizes the hyperkinetic blast style that typified his films from the 90’s like “Natural Born Killers” (1994) and “U-Turn” (1997). “Savages” is interesting, but will also be repellent to many sensibilities. There are beheadings, exploding brains from close-range bullets, whippings, floggings, and a man stuck in a tire burned aflame. It contains scenes you will hate, but will you still lust for more?
Based on the Don Winslow novel, with an outline that seems inspired by classic film noirs, drug movies, and the nihilist youth pulp of Bret Easton Ellis.
129 Minutes. Rated R.
VIOLENT THRILLERS / BLOODLUST / FRIDAY-SUNDAY NIGHT MOVIE
Film Cousins: “Scarface” (1983); “Natural Born Killers” (1994); “Traffic” (2000); “Blow” (2001).
Official movie website: click here.