Directed by: Oliver Stone
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek
Runtime: 2 hour 11 minutes
Release Date: July 6, 2012
Good friends Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a hardened former Navy SEAL, and Ben (Aaron Johnson), a highly educated botanist and world healer, have struck gold with their special brand of imported marijuana. While living the good life with their mutual girlfriend and free spirit "O" (Blake Lively) down in Laguna Beach, California, the three of them are faced with the grim reality of a ruthless Mexican drug cartel boss Elena (Salma Hayek) moving in on their territory. When she approaches Chon and Ben to merge their businesses together, they decide to decline the offer and split town which inspires Elena to kidnap O in an attempt to persuade them to change their minds. Chon and Ben then put into motion an elaborate set of events that will hopefully get them O back safely and rid them of Elena forever.
Was director Oliver Stone's "Savages" a victim of circumstance? Being released theatrically alongside the long anticipated "Amazing Spider-man" during the 4th of July weekend was not exactly the prime time to release a film like this. Having no real star power behind it didn't help matters either. It came and went with little notice and helped solidify Taylor Kitsch as having one of the worst string of failures for an actor in recent memory (seemingly sure bets like Disney's "John Carter" and the summer tentpole blockbuster "Battleship" also fizzled at the box office).
Besides that though the bigger disappointment was the ill-fated return of Oliver Stone, a director who used to have the critics in his corner at the very least, but they also turned their backs on him (the film has a 51% on rottentomatoes.com). Stone's latest film may have received a rotten deal last summer but does that automatically clear it of any flaws? Unfortunately for it, the answer to that is a resounding no.
Oliver Stone certainly knows how to set the mood though. Laguna beach has never looked this gorgeous, some might even mistake it for a Caribbean island at first with the sun drenched palette and the assortment of hard bodies with zero tan lines hanging out in their hammocks and beach front hot tubs while consuming mass quantities of alcohol and narcotics amidst their many sexual escapades that happen all over their huge Laguna beach house. Watching the trio of Chon, Ben and O soak up the sun while in a half conscious state of being is hypnotic, almost like a drug itself but like all drugs the effect soon wears off and what we are left with is a film that takes far too long to get to its inevitable conclusion and characters that don't really deserve any sort of sympathy from the audience.
While it is fun watching them live in the lap of luxury with their don't-give-a-s**t lifestyle, Stone never gives us any reason to root for them. Chon is a borderline psychopath, O is a the epitome of a woman spoiled rotten and while Ben does get some brownie points for having some sort of a conscious, he makes so many bad or questionable decisions that you easily begin to lose respect for him.Then in a strange twist the bad guys actually end up garnering more empathy than than our protagonists.
Elena is a ruthless cartel boss but she is also portrayed as a tortured soul, a mother who lost her children due to her blind ambitions by way of death or pure despisal for her. John Travolta's corrupt DEA agent is also in a position for sympathy when we learn he has a wife dying of cancer that needs Chon and Ben's drugs to ease the pain while also raising his children on his own. These are despicable people, they aren't painted as anything other than criminals but somehow their personal tragedies end up more endearing than those of our main characters. Even Elena's psychopath henchman Lado (played with the usual sleazy bravado by Benicio Del Toro) has ambitions that seem pretty straight forward for the type of business they are in.
By far the most glaring problem with the film though is the ending. In what is quickly becoming an irritating trend, Stone wants us to see everyone suffer in a grim final showdown but he also wants everyone to live happily ever after. So instead of choosing one or the other, we get both and nothing sucks the air out of a good revenge tale than having the rug pulled out from under your feet just when you start to get into it. The ending is always a touch one to nail but revenge movies are the easiest formula to get right. Even bad revenge movies usually deliver on a gleefully sadistic ending where the bad guys get what is coming to them. By providing both good and bad endings, the film loses ground on both ends of the spectrum.
"Savages" isn't a exactly a bad film, it has moments of clarity where it clicks and all the right pieces come together to make a fairly exciting revenge thriller. The cast is pretty first rate and the gorgeous cinematography will have you wanting to purchase some of that Laguna Beach realestate as quickly as possible. It's few glaring issues aren't detrimental to the overall experience but they do keep the film from ever reaching those emotional heights of your typical revenge thriller that even films of lesser quality meet. "Savages" isn't exactly the victim of circumstance that it seemed like at first, it would have met with much the same reception and limited box office appeal regardless of when it was released. In the end, the film is a fun little thriller to catch on a Saturday afternoon on cable but is hardly worth your time or effort to actually seek it out.
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