Did you know what "savages" meant? Well, neither did I! Fortunately, the latest Oliver Stone movie, Savages, defines it for you, so you get some learnin' with your early images of decapitated bodies.
Savages follows the threesome of Ben, Chon, and O, which is short for Ophelia, and not Oprah as you'd expect. Also, before I get into it, "Chon"? Throughout the movie I kept wondering if they were just saying "John" weird. A few times I honestly thought they were saying "Tron". Who the hell names their kid "Chon" anyway? Please don't tell me this is going to become one of those trendy, middle-class names. It was very distracting every time I heard it.
Anyway, Ben (Aaron Johnson) is the Buddhist, hippie-type, yet has degrees in business and botany, that creates the drugs; Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a former Navy Seal, is basically just there to be the muscle; and O (Blake Lively), is both of their girlfriends. She also doubles as the corny narration throughout the film. After she establishes that she's sleeping with both of them, she makes a comment about how we probably think she's a slut. This was met with a collective, agreeing laugh from the audience.
Ben and Chon have been best buds since high school, but I have a hard time believing any friendship strong enough to share a woman. It's just too implausible to get behind in the first place. Taking a page from Breaking Bad, Ben's skill in botany has allowed them to create the best marijuana on the planet. This has made them rich and in great demand. They take a meeting with a Mexican drug cartel ran by Salma Hayek, and her right-hand man, played by Benicio Del Toro. They make a simple offer: teach us how to make marijuana and we'll make you even richer. It's clear that saying no to these guys would be bad. What do these geniuses do? They not only say no, but insult the Mexican drug cartel in the process. There's no surprise as to where this is headed now.
The frustrating thing about a movie like Savages is that it has all the right things going for it, but it becomes clear that the movie is going along a fairly predictable path, and the actions of the characters are just head scratching at times. Then, you have terrible pacing issues where it takes almost an hour before anything substantial happens. You spend almost half of this 130-minute movie following three characters that you don't care about or find anything to identify with. These guys have the life: they live in a huge house on the beach, have tons of money, have sex all the time and seem to have very little risk as they work with medical distribution places. I don't find that very interesting, and the story drags whenever it focuses on them. Their only conflict is the one they created themselves by refusing the cartel's offer. The 'bad guys' in Savages were more interesting and entertaining, and I found myself rooting for them more than the supposed protagonists.
Savages was based on a book of the same name by Don Winslow, who co-wrote the screenplay with Stone and Shane Salerno. I've heard good things about the book, but I feel like something got lost in the adaptation. It also doesn't help there's some really awful dialog throughout the film. The narration by O's character is so bad that it made me wince at times. The story felt convoluted, and it's one of the worst endings I've seen in a while. Talk about a cop out. I won't spoil it, but if you've seen Funny Games, then know that it's pretty similar.
It's not all bad though. Savages is very brutal and dark, two things I normally enjoy about drug related films. However, some of the violence felt thrown in for shock value, as if they didn't know what to do, so they would just linger on a violent scene. A guess a movie called Savages should have lots of savage violence in it to maintain title integrity. It's a good looking film as well, but again, it feels like there's more style here than substance.
The performances work for the most part. I really enjoyed Selma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta. Hayek was really over-the-top, but I thought it worked well for the character. Travolta is great as the sneaky DEA agent playing both sides. The standout is Benicio Del Toro though. He feels like a caged, rabid animal, and you never quite know what he's going to do next. Most of the highlights of the film involve either him, Hayek or Travolta. I also enjoyed Emile Hirsch as Ben and Chon's techie/money laundering guy. I like him in smaller roles like this.
Aaron Johnson, who you might remember from Kick-Ass, was the most interesting out of the threesome, but that's mainly because you actually got to see his character evolve as the movie went on. While I didn't have a problem with Taylor Kitsch or Blake Lively, I felt their characters were totally flat and really not given any depth to them.
Oh, and here's a huge pet peeve of mine: I can't stand it when there are sex scenes in a movie where everyone keeps their clothes on. It doesn't seem realistic to me at all. At one point they are in a bathtub having sex with clothes on. Who does that?
Savages is violent, dark and has some great performances. Unfortunately, those great performances come from the characters you aren't supposed to root for. It takes way too long to get started and is betrayed by a terrible ending. I just wasn't into it. It's interesting that the poster for Savages already looks like a Blu-Ray cover, because that's how I suggest most of you watch this. It's a rental.
2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars