Genre: Drama/Crime Director: Oliver Stone Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Emile Hirsch, Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro, Demian Bichir, Jonathan Patrick Moore, Joel David Moore, Mia Maestro Runtime: 2 hrs 10 mins Rating: R21 (Drug Use,Violence and Sexual Scenes) Released By: UIP Official Website: http://www.savagesfilm.com/
Opening Day: 20 September 2012
Synopsis: Three-time Oscar®-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone returns to the screen with the ferocious thriller Savages, featuring the all-star ensemble cast of Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek and Emile Hirsch. Laguna Beach entrepreneurs Ben (Johnson), a peaceful and charitable Buddhist, and his closest friend Chon (Kitsch), a former Navy SEAL and ex-mercenary, run a lucrative, homegrown industry—raising some of the best marijuana ever developed. They also share a one-of-a-kind love with the extraordinary beauty Ophelia (Lively). Life is idyllic in their Southern California town…until the Mexican Baja Cartel decides to move in and demands that the trio partners with them. When the merciless head of the BC, Elena (Hayek), and her brutal enforcer, Lado (Del Toro), underestimate the unbreakable bond among these three friends, Ben and Chon—with the reluctant, slippery assistance of a dirty DEA agent (Travolta)—wage a seemingly unwinnable war against the cartel. And so begins a series of increasingly vicious ploys and maneuvers in a high stakes, savage battle of wills.
Lest we forget that the Oliver Stone of ‘Natural Born Killers’ and ‘U Turn’ was the same Oliver Stone who did ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’ and ‘World Trade Centre’, the pulpy side of the once disreputable director has returned with potent force in this violent, sexual and all-round intense drug-cartel drama. Indeed, the helmer, who also co-wrote the screenplay of Don Winslow’s 2010 bestseller, is clearly having a blast returning to his lurid roots, and the result is a trippy experience that will leave you riveted – that is, until a copout of an ending, but more on that later.
“It’s that kind of story where things just got so out of control,” says Ophelia Sage, aka O, in her opening voiceover, warning us that just because she is narrating the story does not mean that she will be alive by the end of it. So in ‘hip-speak’, O introduces us to the odd couple Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) – the former a Berkeley business/botany double major and the latter an ex-Navy Seal. Their personalities couldn’t be more different as well – the soft-spoken Ben is pacifist, and volunteers his time helping out the less unfortunate in far-flung places like Asia; the impulsive Chon is just fine staying behind in Laguna Beach hanging out with his war buddies from Afghanistan and Iraq.
In any other circumstance, Ben and Chon probably wouldn’t be associated with each other, but in their line of work, both need each other. With Ben as the brains and Chon as the brawn, they run a wildly successful business growing some of the best and most potent marijuana in the world – the THC content in their product is at a never heard before 33 percent. At the centre of their lives is O, one of those vacuous rich-girl types who thinks she is living the life loving the both of them at the same time. Both Ben and Chon are equally guilty of naivety – you don’t get to run such a multimillion drug business without attracting some unwanted attention.
Trouble calls in the form of the Mexican Baja Cartel, headed by the diminutive Elena (Salma Hayek in a scene-stealing supporting role) who wants a piece of their business. “They are Wal-Mart,” crooked DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta) tells the boys, “And they want you for a specialty aisle.” Thinking that they can outsmart Elena by jumping town, the duo are forced to scramble when Elena’s ruthless henchman Lado (Benicio Del Toro) kidnaps O and threatens her slow painful death unless they play ball. Naturally they do, while raising hell by waging their own war – with some help of course from Chon’s military friends – against Elena’s expansive United States operations as well as ultimately her own flesh and blood.
Higher-brow audiences may try to find deeper meaning in the film’s depiction of morality – especially as Ben and Chon resort to the same methods (among them, torture) that Elena employs in order to gain the upper hand. Laudable though their intentions may be, it is ultimately futile in our opinion – for Stone is too big a fan of titillation and garish brutality to adopt a measured tone to a material with so much potential for excess. With propulsive flair, Stone directs the movie with a nervous jittery energy that suits the material perfectly. Under Stone’s hand therefore, it is an exercise in provocation, one designed to get a reaction out of his audience whether O’s psychological and physical torture under Lado or the latter’s vicious interrogation of a suspected traitor within their midst.
The colourful Elmore Leonard-style noir is also enlivened by its ensemble cast, the supporting ones of which unfortunately outshine that of its three leading actors. Of these three protagonists, only Johnson’s Ben develops any real dimension as his character loses his initial ingenuousness and turns into a cold-hearted liar cum murderer. Kitsch and Lively are fine in their respective roles, but next to veterans Travolta, Hayek and del Toro, they sadly appear lightweight. Yes, the most exciting performances here belong to the three supporting actors – Travolta wickedly amusing in his smarminess; Hayek impressively cool as the chic drug lord; and del Toro sizzling with diabolical menace. A scene where Travolta tries to wheedle out of his accused duplicity by del Toro counts as the best in the movie, both actors gleefully playing up their respective roles.
Such a terrific buildup of story and cast should guarantee a thrilling climax, and indeed Stone delivers just that – the only problem is he backtracks for a second ending that will have you screaming ‘WTF!’. It’s a meta-stunt all right, one that tries to prove that the movie is smarter than just your well-made B-movie, but executed with flippancy as it is done here, the otherwise timid finish leaves you feeling cheated. Still, on the strength of the rest of the movie, we are willing to look past this glaring flaw and appreciate Stone’s work for what it is. Like we said, this won’t be your politically important films like ‘Born on the Fourth of July’, ‘Platoon’ or ‘Nixon’, but – especially with the recent passing of Tony Scott – this is a rare exhilarating, edge-of-your-seat thriller from an A-list director that will satisfy your appetite for lurid pleasures.
(Riveting, edge-of-your-seat thriller that invites you to revel in its lurid excesses of violence and sex – just ignore its copout of a second ending)