Savages is a crazy movie. It has drugs, sex, but no rock and roll. The rock and roll is replaced by a totally out of place upbeat ringtone. It has the young nerdy guy who played the lead in Kick Ass play a buffed out professional weed scientist. (The movie doesn’t call him that, but I like how it sounds). It has Blake Lively again proving she’s a real actress by pretending to get really high and really vulnerable (it’s just like The Town!). This film was directed by Oliver Stone, so going in, I think we all knew it was going to be crazy. The real question then is: Is it a good film? Uuuhh….it is, kind of?
The aforementioned Aaron Johnson of Kick Ass fame here plays Ben, a man who grows the best pot in the world in Southern California. He’s part of a dynamic trio. The second is Taylor Kitsch as Chon (it’s pronounced Sean, really) who is a former marine who served in Afghanistan and is smart and capable in ways Ben isn’t, which makes them perfect partners. The third is Blake Lively as “O” (short for Ophelia), who is their girlfriend. Minor spoilers I guess, but it’s revealed pretty early on that somehow she’s having a relationship with these two best friends at the same time, they both know about it, and it’s cool. Again, Oliver Stone, crazy.
The problem arises when a mexican cartel led by Salma Hayek wants to take over Ben and Chon’s lucrative pot selling business. The boys don’t really want it go down like that, so Benecio Del Toro, here playing a cartel enforcer named Lado, kidnaps O to force their cooperation. Thus begins a series of escalating attempts on both sides to get what they want, in true Oliver Stone fashion. This movie is VIOLENT. I’ll leave out the literal gory details, but suffice it to say that a drug cartel looking to intimidate, or torture, somebody pulls no punches. The violence can come quickly and without warning, so the movie maintains a good amount of tension throughout.
The best acting job in the movie belongs to Blake Lively as O. She comes off as both naive yet strangely aware of how to adapt to her surroundings, even if she doesn’t want too. I found her most compelling when O was trying to act “normal” in the face of the extreme circumstances she found herself in and doing an admirable job, but conveying that she was liable to break down at any point. Del Toro is, as usual, excellent, but dare I say that we’re so used to him playing somewhat creepy a little bit out there guys that the shock value has kind of worn off.
It’s actually John Travolta, playing a crooked DEA agent named Dennis, who injects the film with the most life. He’s manic and prone to giving speeches explaining why he’s right, and does it in such a rapid fire but clear way that you can’t help but listen to him. He’s funny and actually believable. The only letdown is he actually has a minor role, I would have liked to see his character get more screen time.
What is holding Savages back is dialogue. Some of the stuff O narrates about her relationship and feelings is cringe worthy (“Chon doesn’t have orgasms….he has WARgasms”). Really? It came off as forced, and I actually think the entire film would have been better served to have dumped O’s narration and just let us figure some of the behind the scenes thoughts ourselves. There’s even a twist ending that’s more of a ‘what? huh?” moment than “cool I didn’t see that coming!”. The supporting cast can best be described as “meh”. Salma Hayek is alright as the cartel leader, but is given precious little to do. The male leads are capable actors, but there’s nothing about either Kitsch’s or Johnson’s performance that makes them jump out as big movie stars.
So back to the big question: Is Savages a good film? I have to come down on the side of no, it’s not. It’s an interesting film. It’s Oliver Stone being crazy….not quite Natural Born Killers level, but it surpasses say, Any Given Sunday. If you’re somebody who likes that sort of thing, then Savages is enjoyable. For a movie that takes itself very seriously, it works much better when we as audience members don’t. I respect what Stone was trying to do here, but I think he just wasn’t quite up to the challenge.