Blake Lively stars as Ophelia, the girlfriend to two Laguna Beach entrepreneurs, one an ex-mercenary (Taylor Kitsch) and the other a principled environmentalist (Aaron Johnson), who’ve built a thriving homegrown industry on the best marijuana ever developed. When they refuse to sell their business to a brutal Mexican drug cartel (lead by Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro), Ophelia is kidnapped, and so begins an escalating series of ploys with savage consequences.
It’s been a very long time since director Oliver Stone has made a good movie, or at least, made a movie that’s more entertaining than it is preachy. So for his return to form, it seems like Stone is back to making stories about hot people, hot guns, hot money, and most of all, hot Mexican drug dealers.
What I liked most about this flick is that it seems like Stone is really having a fun time with this material. Take it for granted, I never read the Don Winslow novel that this adapted from, but from what I hear, it’s a freakin’ cult-classic that keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time you’re reading it, which is very surprising to hear considering my only way of actually reading nowadays is watching a foreign flick. But anywho, Stone starts this story off well by giving us a setting, the characters, and an under-lining sense of impending doom that sooner or later, bad shit is going to happen and going to happen badly, too. Things never get to the full-on extremist-level that I feel like it could have gone towards, but any time it even tries to dance with that idea, it works and brings a whole bunch of fun and kinetic energy to it.
Another aspect of this movie was how I didn’t quite know what was going to happen next, after Ophelia eventually ends up getting captured. To me, I felt like I knew what was going to happen to these characters, how, when, and where, but for some odd reason, Stone totally changed things up on me. Stone starts to focus his attention towards different details, characters, and plot devices that made me wonder just what this guy really was going to pull out of his hat by the end of it all. But this film wouldn’t be a Stone film without any of the trade-mark changing of colors throughout the film, which we do get, but not enough in my opinion. Honestly, when you have a Stone flick, you can never go wrong with too many changes of color in one movie.
Problem with this film, is that whenever you think that this film is going to deliver the goods on when it showed to be Stone’s “most ruthless film since Natural Born Killers“, I didn’t see it. Yeah, there’s a couple of grisly kills here and there but when I go into a Stone film that promises me the type of blood-shed like his 1994 classic, I expect freakin’ blood and guts everywhere, not just two torture scenes out of a whole 2 hour and 10 minute movie. Even when the tension builds up in some scenes and we get a taste of Stone’s frenetic feel, it’s awesome and brings you right back into the story, but whenever it leaves, you feel disappointed like Stone had all of this crazy shit planned but didn’t decide to go with it because he seems to have a better appreciation for life in his older years. Boo old Oliver Stone!
What interested me about this flick right from the start of production, was the ensemble cast that Stone was able to assemble here that are all pretty good. First off, the young blood. Taylor Kitsch has had a pretty rough year so far and it only seems to get a lot worse considering he doesn’t really do much in this flick, other than just stand around, look tough, and call up his Army boys to save him when he feels like shit is about to go down. Maybe that’s how his character was written in the book, but it makes for a very boring and dull character, especially when you have him uttering out lines like, “life does not change, life changes you”. Give me a break dude. Blake Lively also doesn’t do much as O, even though the story is all surrounded her. The problem with Lively here is that even though some of her scenes can be good, her narration that carries on throughout the whole film just made me want to not only hope that she got killed, but whoever was taping her voice for the narration was as well. Her lines are terribly cheesy like one where she goes, “I had orgasms, he had Wargasms”. Really? Is that what we consider clever when we make jokes about sex?
The actual stand-out from these youngsters is probably Aaron Johnson, who shows that he is fresh face that deserves to be watched in the upcoming years. He’s pretty solid here as the hippie-like dude, Ben, and gives this character a total transformation from soft, peace-loving guy who loves the weed he grows and smokes from violent, hell-breaker that just wants his girl and his business back. Johnson definitely makes this character a lot more interesting than what was already written for him and it’s cool to see that this is pretty much the same kid from Kick-Ass, who is still doing the same things 2 years later, only this time, with weed added to the ass-kicking. My man.
Now, it’s time for the old-heads in our cast. Benicio Del Toro is pretty cartoonish as Lado, a vicious enforcer who wants to be his own man, but also can’t because of the orders he has to take. Saying that “he is cartoonish” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because this guy can be pretty scary whenever he’s on-screen. Del Toro has a lot of scenes where you can just tell that this guy is up to no good and I guess when you have a Mexican drug dealer villain in any film, that’s always good, if a tad racist. Salma Hayek plays his boss, Elena, who shows off a new side to her where she’s chewing the scenery like no other with all of her yelling and screaming, but still has chances to settle it all down and be a real person. Definitely could have replaced Julia Roberts in Mirror Mirror. Then again, would have been a whole different film entirely. It was also a surprise to see John Travolta in a meaty role that shows him off as being sort of a dickhead of sorts. Travolta plays this crooked-ass DEA agent that’s on everybody’s pay-roll and you, just like the characters in the movie, don’t know whether or not to trust him. This is a great role for Travolta, because it reminds everybody that he actually does have some good acting chops still left in him, even if some can’t get past the fact that he may be playing for the same team. But hey, that’s OK in my book, just keep on bringing out some good roles.
Consensus: Though it is a tad messy and never goes to the full extremes of violence that it seemed like it promised, Savages is still a fun return to form for Oliver Stone, who shows that he still has the knack for choosing a great ensemble cast, and giving them good material to work with, even if some of them aren’t as good as others. I’m talking about you Blake Lively and Taylor Kitsch.