Oliver Stone (W) rose to prominence in the 1980s, with hits like Platoon and Wall Street, cementing his reputation as a heavy-hitter in American cinema. With the passage of time certain directors fade away, striving to remain relevant in a changing time. Like a lot of directors, his resume has some duds along with the gems. Natural Born Killers, anyone? When I saw the commercial for Savages, I thought it looked like something Tony Scott might do, and it reminded me of Domino for some reason. At any rate, sex and violence are my cinematic fruits and veggies, and Savages appeared to be my kinda movie. While some aspects were unrealistic, I think Oliver Stone has shown that he can still elicit some very good performances.
Savages is aptly titled, as almost every character could arguably be characterized as such. The movie centers on a blissful trio of twenty-somethings who live a hippie-dippy dream in beautiful, sunny California. The cinematography revealed sun-drenched undertones in every frame, coinciding with amber-haired leading lady Blake Lively (Green Lantern, The Town), as Ophelia, or ‘O.’ As the movie goes on, one wonders if this was a sly reference to the character’s voracious sexuality. If you went into the theater blind, you found out quickly just what this was all about, as Lively’s legs were spread before the opening credits disappeared. We’ve seen threesomes before, but O is in an actual relationship with two people, Ben (Aaron Johnson, Kick-Ass) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch, John Carter, Friday Night Lights). We meet Chon first, as he ravages O in the first few minutes. She explains that Chon is the love of her life. A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, he is steely and brooding, the quintessential strong silent type who acts first and thinks later. We soon meet Ben, O’s other boyfriend who stands in stark contrast to Chon. Ben is more cerebral, sensitive, and slow to anger. The yin and yang between the two men make for the perfect triumvirate. Don’t think for one second that this is a mere twisted love story though. Ben and Chon share more than a girlfriend, they share a thriving marijuana empire. Ben studied Botany in college, and Chon came across the best green in the world during his time in Afghanistan. Forming a partnership seemed like a no-brainer, with Ben as the brains and Chon providing the brawn. He brought cannabis seeds back from Afghanistan, and Ben used his knowledge to make their strain more potent than any other. Getting stoned, rolling in the dough, and taking baths with their own blonde beach bunny, what could be better for Ben and Chon? But nothing good lasts forever.
When Ben and Chon refuse an offer to expand their business with the Mexican cartel, the organization attempts to leverage O against them. Enter Salma Hayek as Elena, the cunning, ruthless “queenpen,” who is determined to cash in before the political climate in her home country changes, threatening her illegal enterprise. She dispatches henchman Benecio Del Toro(The Wolfman) to take the one thing from Ben and Chon that they value more than anything, the lovely Ophelia. She is kidnapped to force their compliance, and they will stop at nothing to get her back. What transpires next is a harrowing journey of self-discovery and loyalty, as Ben and Chon show exactly what they are capable of when pushed to their limits.
I enjoyed Savages because it assaulted my senses. There were such carnal displays on screen that I couldn’t help but feel sucked in. Stone establishes the dynamic between the three lovers quickly, and it actually works, in a perverse way. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that three people can be so intimate with one another without becoming posessive. On an emotional and passionate level, it could work – but otherwise it’s totally impractical. In fact, Elena explains to a captive O that Ben and Chon will never love her more than they love each other, or else why would they share her? Moreover, I thought the two leading men were quite good in their roles. Taylor Kitsch has impressed me from the beginning, since Friday Night Lights. He is completely believable as the brooding, relentless enforcer who fears nothing. Aaron Johnson was also effective as the more hesitant, soulful Ben. In fact, I thought the cast did a great job of overcoming any flaws in the script through their stellar performances, including those of Hayek and Del Toro.
I see that Savages hasn’t fared too well at the box office, coming in at number 4 in its opening weekend. Some may avoid it because of the obvious violence; others may think that Stone is pandering to a younger, less discerning audience. I acknowledge that I found certain aspects of the storyline implausible, but isn’t that the nature of movies, in general? From a visual perspective, my attention never waned. If you’re up for a wild ride, Savages is worth a look. Grade: B+.
This article first appeared at Poptimal and was reprinted with permission.