Savages

The lead story here, undeniably, is that Oliver Stone is up to his old tricks.

“Savages” is old school Stone. It’s a story with a cast of crazy and colorful characters, caught up in violent situations, soaked in drugs and sex, performed by a great cast who all seem to be relishing their deliciously cheesy roles, and wrapped up in Stone’s unmistakable, inimitable directorial stylings.

I don’t know if I can call it good, but it sure as Hell is fun.

Ben and Chon (sic) are high-tech, major league marijuana dealers living on the California coast. Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is the brains behind the operation. Dual majoring in botany and business, he has skill to grow plants that are genetically modified and specially grown to achieve supreme potency. Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is the muscle. After serving tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan, he has the killer instinct, the knowledge, and the special forces contacts to protect the business. They serve as diametric contrast to each other: Ben is the happy, hippie, buddhist who wants to resolve things peacefully whenever possible. Chon is the violent, might makes right type.

Both share the love of “O”. Ophelia (Blake Lively) is their stoner love interest, shared between the two weed lords in a modern-day ménage à trois. Ophelia also narrates occasionally, as evidenced in the trailer below

When offered a “deal” (think hostile takeover) by a Mexican cartel, Chon advocates they counter with an immediate, violent response, but Ben sees an opportunity to get out of the business altogether. When the two offer to freely hand over their contacts, territories and techniques, but without their personal services, the cartel takes offence. In order to force the duo into service, they kidnap O.

Of course, instead of becoming compliant, Ben and Chon retaliate. They turn “Savage”.

The cartel which captured O is headed by Elena Sánchez, played by Salma Hayek as a vindictive, cold-blooded, ruthless woman. In her command is Benicio del Toro, who authors a creepy, lecherous, semi-unintelligble henchman. And on the periphery is John Travolta as a crooked DEA agent waist deep in the morass of all of this mess. Hayek tries to freeze people in their tracks with her frigidity, Del Toro uses his natural abilities to give folks the heebie jeebies, and Travolta is a natural as a rat/weasel. None of them are asked to stretch, but you could look at the flip side of that and say that they’re all well cast. Each of the three seem to be enjoying playing the parts they’ve been given, and that, in turn lends an enjoyable air to the proceedings.

Not that that’s sorely needed or anything, as the movie certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. There were times, especially early, when the narration almost gave me the giggles. Bon mots such as “I have orgasms, he has wargasms”, and “Drugs are supposed to be bad, but in a bad, bad world, they’re actually good” left me wishing I brought a notebook in order to scribble them down as I watched. “Savages” is loaded with them. The situation is crazy, too. The main characters are millionaire weed dealers who are generally good guys, because they try to never hurt anyone, but have to go on a rampage when their shared girlfriend is stolen. They have to try to get at an evil matriarch protected by a psychotic scumbag whose assassin cover is a gardening crew.  “Savages” is never a “So bad it’s good” movie, but it’s not too far down the road, either. The story is relatively straight, but the characters and situations are crazy and colorful, to say the least.

The icing on this cinematic delectable is the directorial stylings of Mr Oliver Stone. As director and co-writer of the screenplay, Stone’s fingerprints are all over this – in a good way, if you’re a fan. While not as showy as say, “Natural Born Killers”, you’re still in store for some sudden dutch angles, black and white, scene transitions straight out of Salvador Dali, and in one prominent instance, even a rewind. Oh yeah, baby. It should be pointed out as a warning sign and selling point both. Depending on where you shake out on the heavy-handed artistry of everybody’s favorite conspiracy theorist, you’re either in for a treat or some torture.

Personally, I’m a big fan. And as such, I enjoyed “Savages” very, very much. But there’s good reason why it’s currently at 53% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s not for everyone, and it would be extraordinarily easy to put on a critics hat and point out the ludicrous elements. I mean, they’re there in abundance. But if you’re a fan of Oliver Stone, and you like this lineup of performers, or if you just want to see a flashy, fun drug warfare romp… “Savages” is the movie for you.

B+

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89 thoughts on “Savages

  1. Sounds like Oliver was out to put on some Tarentino/Ritchie colored glasses, stoke up a big old spliff and jump neck deep into something with a little mayhem! I have had such reservations about Kitsch’s next project that I am curious about him in this just because its very different than the last two he did!

    I am betting I will see this on DVD some day and laugh and think, ‘ya know Stone just doesnt make an out and out bad film, and appreciate it for that fact!

    • Yup yup and more yup, Ric. LOL :D

      That’s definitely what it seems like he did. LOL. And this one was actually pretty good. But it’s heavy on the “Stone” so that’s going to put a lot of people off.

      Kitsch was fine here, even good. But he’s not being asked to carry the show, not by a long shot. This movie almost has an ensemble feel to it…

    • LOL!! Yes. heh. Yes, it is.

      With the one exception of not feeling cutting edge. Nor culturally significant. Nor unique… or well, classic.

      Aside from that though, yeah, that’s a totally apt description!

  2. Hi, fogs and company:

    I could see committing kidnap and going to war over a home grown coke or meth lab and distribution ring, Even the secrets of ‘UpseeDayisyum’ and ‘Hush-A-Boom!’, but you DON’T go to war over Cannabis Sativa!

    Unless it’s really primo, One or Two Toke S*it. Then you just raid the place and take it for yourself! If anyone should know this, Stone should!!!

    • LOL. Well, you’re right. Obviously… but the movie goes to some great lengths early on to establish that these guys are growing Super Weed. Hydroponics labs, growing techniques, splicing the seeds, etc…

      Suposedly this is the most legendary weed known to mankind. LOL Only in a Stone flick, you know Jack? :D

  3. I enjoyed this film adaptation of Don Winslow’s 2010 novel, which I heartily recommend btw. DW is probably the most knowledgeable and keenly aware authors out there when it comes to the decades old War on Drugs. His magnum opus book, ‘The Power of the Dog’, is a must read for anyone wanting to know the ramifications of what Nixon started back in the 70s (> 90% of what’s in there are based on true history, on both sides of the border). Many of the aspects and Oliver Stone traits you cited worked well with the material at hand. What was interesting, and a point of controversy with the readers and Winslow fans I know, was how Stone (and/or the studio) handled the ending. They filmed and presented the novel’s and the filmmakers’ versions (I won’t spoil it for anyone, but I think you can probably guess which one is which). This is going to be discussed for years. Fine review, Fogs.

    • Let me guess… and this one wont be a spoiler, but Stone’s ending was the Romeo and Juliet one? LOL

      [Grinning disbelieving head shake]

      Stone…

      LOL. That “Double up” there, that’s one of the things that’s going to be an easy mark for anyone looking to knock this movie down a peg. I mean, it’s almost not even fair to be a critic and criticize that, its way too easy! LOL

  4. That sounds great. Good to know Stone didn’t make another poop like Alexander, that movie was just horrid. I’m a big fan of Natural Born Killers and if that one is at least a little similiar I’ll be very happy.

    • Yeah, Sati. I’m a big fan of NBK, too. I love that movie. But I think the key phrase there is “at least a little similiar” LOL. I dont want to get your hopes up.

      I liked it though. I think if you liked NBK, you stand a good chance of liking this one. :)

  5. Maybe on DVD for me. This is one of those movies where absolutely nobody is likeable in the least bit. It also looks like someone’s been playing Army of Two! Great review!

    • LOL. You’re right on both counts. There isnt a single like, innocent character in the bunch. No doubt about it.

      And yeah, Ben and Chon could absolutely sub in for the Army of Two guys :D

      Worth your time on DVD though… you wont feel ripped of if you catch it as a rental or on tv, Keith.

  6. I live in a town called Savage so naturally I should see this movie, ahah. Nah, I think it might be too violent for my taste, though I do love that Aaron Johnson, such a cutie and ever so versatile. How was he in this one Fogs?

    • He was fine. The character was a little goofy though. I dont know if it was the book, or Stone, or what, but they portrayed the two as two really opposite guys, to almost a comical effect. Kitsch’s character is this stone cold killer type, so Johnson is naturally a Buddhist, hippie, volunteer in Africa, want to quit the drug business and start making cheap solar panels sort. :D If you can get past the BROAD characters, you’ll enjoy it.

  7. Looking forward to checking this out. For some reason the theater in town had two screens devoted to Spider-Man, which I sort of understand and two screens devoted to that Katy Perry (film?) which sort of baffles me. Needless to say I hope I get to watch it soon. As a side note the book that this film is based on is set in Laguna Beach where my brother lives.
    Glad to hear that this is worth watching :-)

  8. I enjoyed the movie. it caught my attention because it was an Oliver stone movie first, and then once i found out that it had to do with the kidnapping of a white woman, mexican cartels, del toro/hayek & weed, i was “signed sealed and delivered’. It wasnt like it was something we havent seen online/in the news (since stuff like this is happening daily and cartel heads change more often than a whores panties) it was (a long, but) fun flick and more than a simple flashy blockbuster. Great review.

    • Thanks Papo! And thanks for stopping by to check it out and comment up!

      Yeah, it absolutely has that “Pulp” element going for it, doesn’t it? That kind of scandalous drug culture flavor? And Stone does a decent job of delivering on it, for sure. It’s no Natural Born Killers or anything, but its a pretty solid enough flick. :D

  9. I agree, Stone is up to his old tricks. This movie feels like a fusion of all his other films, which is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you enjoy (most of) his work as I do. My thoughts on the film –and its political and cultural implications– are here, if you’re curious: bit.ly/MfsTo0

    • Interesting. LOL.

      I would say that those movies are both more action heavy, while “Savages” is more about the colorful characters, and it also features the heavy handed stylings of Mr Oliver Stone.

      I dont think this movie would rank higher – like quality wise or pop culture estimation wise – than those movies, but its definitely a different flavor.

      Thats my take!!

  10. Interesting. I have a bad cold that’s clinging on right now which is really the only thing stopping me from hitting the theaters. I was considering going to see Savages when I got over it, but this might be one that I just save for a rental. We’ll see. Thanks for the review!

  11. Sounds like it is exactly what it looks like. Nothing wrong with some dumb fun in the theater to cleanse your palet before the Dark Knight Rises.

    • Exactly. The trailers give you a really good sense of what you’ll be getting if you tune in for this flick. And there’s definitely nothing wrong with that, it’s very entertaining…

      Now let’s just see if TDKR lives up to all the promises it needs to live up to!

    • LOL! That’s pretty funny.

      Blow is 10x the movie that this is. That was based on a true story, and had that authenticity… this is soooo far removed from reality. :D You can just tell its a Hollywood story, you know?

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