Starring Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively
The relationship that I have had with Oliver Stone and his movies has always been a salt on the wound/ soothing aloe sort of affair. Love a movie like JFK, detest a film like Natural Born Killers, love a movie like Talk Radio, and detest a movie like Any Given Sunday. But I will always give the guy the benefit of the doubt and my attention when he gives the world something new. The new millennium has also brought us a sort of kindler gentler Oliver Stone, seemingly more interested in the sort of ABC’s of filmmaking than trying to enrage us with his political agenda or wild hair conspiracy theories. Even a movie like W. would have been a different affair had it been made by Oliver Stone back in the 90’s.
But that’s not to say his movies over the last 10 years have been the work of a man on the decline…well there is Alexander, a movie that just might be the worst film of his career. Besides that, he’s been steady and entertaining and now he presents to us a new project: Savages. A movie that sort of puts him back into Scarface territory (he was the screenwriter on that film) but puts him back into this territory under the kinder, gentler Oliver Stone. Does the movie work? Yes. Does the movie spoil some potential? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Yes I did.
Savages main protagonists are Ben (Aaron Johnson), Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and O (Blake Lively). Ben and Chon are fairly successful in the marijuana game, creating what is considered to be some of the best weed in the business and living the good life in Laguna Beach, CA. O is their love and she loves them both, because put them together and they are her perfect man. But their idyllic life gets interrupted when a Mexican drug cartel (run by Salma Hayek) wants in on their expertise, network and cash flow. When the boys only offer to sell their business and walk away all together, the cartels enforcer and opportunist Lado (Benicio Del Toro) kidnaps O to force their hand.
When I first started seeing trailers and reading about this movie, I feared that Stone would delve into the chaotic mess of a world known as Natural Born Killers. But he keeps a straight face here and the movie benefits from that. Savages also benefits from the absurd yet grounded performances by Del Toro, Hayek and John Travolta (who places a DEA agent with his hands on both sides of the fence). Kitsch, Johnson and Lively take things a little bit more seriously and while it works in a chunk of their scenes, it would have been nice to seem them loosen up a bit.
Kitsch in particular seems to have the same demeanor that he had in John Carter and Battleship…its fine and doesn’t hurt the movie, its just nothing exciting. His character is the muscle and it almost seems at times that he’s trying to hard to be convincing of such. You’re not a bad actor Taylor; you just need to trust yourself a bit more.
So what about that squandered potential I spoke of earlier? Well, the movie seems to take a safer road when it comes to the brutality associated with the cartel. This is a cartel whose very existence is shrinking and as they go after the smaller fish in the sea to keep afloat, their desperation never really comes through like it really needed to. Stone also decides to add narration courtesy of O, but I think it would have been more effective by taking the Scorsese route and giving narration to a couple more characters…especially Del Toro’s.
Savages also makes the mistake of giving the audience two different endings. One a more Romeo and Juliet vibe, the other ending is more of a standard issue ending. He should have stuck with one and found a happy medium between the two.
But these minor gripes are just that, minor. Savages is by no means groundbreaking, but it’s solid and at times better because of being in the hands of Stone.