Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone always operates outside of the box and constantly pushes the envelope. In his new film, “Savages,” he’s back with a vengeance, reaffirming his status as one of America’s greatest filmmakers.
The movie begins with a gripping voice-over by a young woman stating, “Just ’cause I’m tellin’ you this story, doesn’t mean I’m alive at the end of it.” It’s the voice of Blake Lively who plays Ophelia or “O” as she’s known throughout the film; girlfriend to best friends Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) who are primo-cannabis harvesters/distributors. Chon, an ex-Navy SEAL is the muscle behind the operation, while Ben is a peace-loving environmentalist.
Their highly successful “joint” venture (couldn’t resist the pun) is threatened when they turn down an offer to join forces with a ruthless Mexican drug cartel. The head honcho of the cartel is Elena (the wonderfully wicked Salma Hayek) who severely frowns upon rejection. In retaliation, she has her dastardly deputy, Lado (the mucho menacing Benicio Del Toro), kidnap ‘O’. But the cartel underestimates the menage-a-trois and all hell breaks loose.
It is well-known that Oliver Stone never sugarcoats his subject matter. Warning: “Savages” is not a film for the squeamish. The brutality dished out by the cartel’s henchmen is beyond appalling. Torture and mutilation comes as easy to Lado as chomping on Cheetos. Decapitations by men yielding chainsaws ... well, you get the picture.
But “Savages” is also a cinematic masterpiece, a collage of breathtakingly beautiful scenery and sumptuous style. The sweeping visuals are as erotic as the action between the characters. Black-and-white shots blend briefly into color, creating an intriguing palette sometimes mirroring the “high” which permeates the film’s nature.
Also in its favor, “Savages” is rife with kitschy performances. Del Toro is a supreme scene stealer as one of the most amoral deviants since Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men.” And John Travolta rocks as a dirty DEA agent who dangerously tries playing games on both sides of the border with some shocking and hilarious results.
“Savages” is a throwback to the old days when Oliver Stone made more visceral films. It’s refreshing to see he hasn’t lost that dark edginess which was so evident in “U-Turn” and “Natural Born Killers.” But most of all, I was reminded of the brilliant screenplay he penned for “Scarface” as I watched “Savages.” Good corruption can be such a delight to savor.
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