It is unsure what kind of film Oliver Stone wanted “Savages” to be. A tale of two young boys and their shared free love for their bonding girl or the twisted political turn of events on the border of US and Mexico that causes a game of power or is it simply the fun he can have in giving an action thriller with some intelligence peppered on it to tune the seriousness down on his regular presentations? I think he simply mashed everything up to provide an all round performance that constantly searches for a firm ground and never settling.
As Blake Lively through her character “O” begins the narration, I was in wonderment when was the last time I blatantly noticed that it was so out of a film and detached from it even before it began. May be it is the voice of Lively or the fact that it does not carry the intrigue generally these kind of narration begins. The idea is that the narrator has a strong presence as a character too but that falls flat as the magical aspect of “O” never really comes out beyond her beauty. Regardless she has the presence director Oliver Stone was going for which he easily gets. She is the Sun these two planets Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) circle around. They are in the business of superior brand of marijuana. What comes out of that is the story narrated with not so powerful voice of Lively.
This is a film about lot of bad people. Strike that, it is a film only about bad people. The only reason these three are even considered to be the slightest fade of goodness is that they are initiated and provoked. Then one cannot be naive about the ways of Chon, an ex-soldier who is the muscle in this business. Ben is the hippie who is happy to be the mind and peace of this development. Regardless both are not naive in the situation they are in. Ben has been outside of these chaos and Chon has kept it in the best interest to keep it that way. As the movie opens, this has been working good for them except now the Mexican Drug Cartel wants their product and share. Of course they do not want in and what results is the participants in this chaos to shed blood, shoot mercilessly and take what they want.
While the film is an effort to combine all elements of a good crime thriller with sufficient darkness to the presentation, it does not have the powerful writing it would have needed to dictate itself. It does carry the dark humour which I would have expected in immense from Benicio del Toro’s Cartel enforcer Lado. Nor does it have the absolute reality of the intricacies in this mess and the clever ideas these two come up to battle the most cruel people in their world.
There are two notable performances that would have needed more screen time. That would be DEA Agent Dennis played by John Travolta with snaky sneakiness and the other is the aforementioned del Toro’s Lado. While Travolta’s DEA Agent is corrupt in so many ways and deflects a situation into an impulsive chess game, Toro’s Lado is pure evil. Both of them have one scene together where you see Agent Dennis playing the situation of him being dead into a methodical plan to benefit both him and Lado. “Savages” would have benefitted a ton from these two people.
In no way “Savages” is an under performed film. It has these three newcomers who are not intimidated by the roles they were given and going after it with great gravity. The film holds its ground and needed an rocket launching trigger in the screenplay. The writing by Shane Salerno, Don Winslow and director Oliver Stone needed some devious conversations more than the unnecessary gore and violence Stone splashes on the screen.
Salma Hayek who is supposedly this powerful woman Elena creates no fear whatsoever and merely comes off as a sexy bitch. Lively’s character projects nothing of her real pain or the past or the cunningness one would have expected. It is not that we have to root for someone in a film and definitely not here as all are quite firm on surviving in this cruel world. Take Ben who gets exposed to this world he knew he was in but never took the front lines. He is terrified by the violence but his shock and change are shushed away. His buddy Chon has seen it all and there are no heart to heart to see this supposed see no evil shattered in his friend. Oliver Stone had a good story out of the novel of the same name by Don Winslow but unfortunately it suffers from the weakness of a not so powerful screenplay.