Starring Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta, Salma Hayek. Written by Shane Salerno, Don Winslow and Oliver Stone. Directed by Oliver Stone.
Now, keep in mind, this isn't going to matter much to you, as you likely haven't seen this film yet. And it's in no way any form of a spoiler. But, no matter what your cinematographic preference, you will be disappointed by the ending of Savages. There were literal groans in the theatre I was in during the screening of this film. That said, it's important for you to know that the journey Savages takes you on is well worth the rotten finish.
For starters, it's a grossly underused trick to have a narrator in modern film. And to be honest, this movie is a shining example why. Blake Lively is not only one of the most overappreciated actresses in Tinseltown – although she is perfect as a stoner/surfer slutbag in Savages, probably requiring very little acting to begin with – listening to her as the supreme orator of this tale for the duration of the film is more than slightly irritating (I mean, c'mon, this isn't Robert De Niro in Casino). But removing the narration aspect of the film would sabotage one of the great things that Savages has going for it. The use of an omniscient voice allows for much more character development than would otherwise be possible in a two-hour sitting. And with such a talented cast and so many dynamic and involved characters in this storyline, it's absolutely essential. Kudos to Oliver Stone for using one of the oldest, yet underutilized, tricks in the book.
As far as the plot goes, it's pretty cut-and-dry Hollywood stuff. Stoner buddies and highly successful marijuana growers Ben and Chon (Johnson and Kitsch) have to rescue their slutty girlfriend, O (Lively), who was kidnapped by a ruthless cartel. No, that was not a typo – it is their girlfriend. As in, they share her. And yes, she goes by O, short for Ophelia (clever, eh?). Sharing her involves the boys taking turns having sex with poor O on the couch, in the bathtub, on the lounge chairs – pretty much everywhere. And not one at a time, either. All of this occurs between her surfing, getting high and shopping at high-end boutiques. (She seems to really have a rough life.)
I was really hoping to see more than traditional typecasting in Savages. The three amigos act exactly like you'd expect stoner weed wholesalers and the girl they share like a sex slave to act. But it would have been nice to have seen Kitsch, as ex-military guy Chon – with a checkered past and baggage from his time spent in Afghanistan – play outside the box a little. The jaded, skeletons-in-the-closet and angry-at-the-world character is, simply put, just a little overdone and cliché at this point. And Johnson as the peace-loving, botanist burnout Ben is not exactly pushing the limits of acting, either.
All the while, you're not sure just how crooked DEA agent Dennis (Travolta) is, and when exactly does the cartel get to act like "savages"? I mean, this is the Mexican cartel. Yeah, we see the results of torture and executions, but what exactly is any more brutal here than what we've seen on celluloid before? Hell, Robocop 2 was more savage than this. We're talking Mexican drug cartels, people – where's the frickin' gore?!
Oddly enough, depending on your perspective, brilliant performances from veterans Hayek (as Elena, the head of the cartel), Del Toro (in another solid acting job as Lado, the merciless enforcer for the cartel), and – shockingly – Travolta (in the not-sure-what-side-he's-on role as a scumbag agent) are entirely what save this film. Additionally, and he's truly been a hit-or-miss guy his entire career, Stone's direction is truly firing on all cylinders in Savages. He's able to master all the pieces of what could easily be a movie we've all seen a hundred times before, and turn it into a supremely enjoyable film. Just be prepared for that ending. You'll likely groan and roll your eyes, but please make sure you've enjoyed everything up to that point. And you're welcome for the warning. —Adam O'Connor