Savages - Review by Stu Coote
Savages, the latest film by Oliver Stone, tells the story of Californian drug dealers Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) as they are planning to retire. Complications arise as a Mexican Cartel led by Elena (Salma Hayek) start to move in on Chon and Ben’s territory, which results in multiple kidnappings, shoot-outs and double crossings. Ultimately, Savages suffers from an inconsistent tone but has a few highlights to draw upon.
Savages is the film adaptation of a novel by acclaimed crime author, Don Winslow (The Power of the Dog, The Winter of Frankie Machine and Dawn Patrol). I am a huge fan of Winslow’s work; he is able to lace the criminal world with grounded characters which make for more compelling stories. Being a story about drug dealers, it’s already a hard enough task getting the audience to sympathise with its protagonists. Failing to establish the title characters of Ben and Chon exacerbated this problem. Sure, we get a montage introducing their operation and basic character outlines but nothing to make me emotionally invest in them. The opening scenes are hampered by some truly brutal narration by Blake Lively, who plays Ophelia/O, including deplorable lines like “Just because you’re hearing this doesn’t mean I’m alive at the end” and, in an effort to explain her sex life with soldier Chon: “He gives me orgasms, I give him wargasms”. Need I say more?
On a positive note Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro were outstanding. Benicio Del Toro in particular seemed to be having a ball playing the cartel’s main assassin, Lado. I loved the little touches in his costuming and mannerisms – some truly hilarious 80s inspired clothing, a bouffant hair cut, the constant sucking on his teeth and twirling of his moustache. He was sleazy, inappropriate and immoral and I loved it. Since we rarely get to see Salma Hayek in Spanish-speaking roles these days, I often forget how ferocious she can be. I loved her role as the cartel boss with all the domestic issues of a single mother. A rotund John Travolta weighed in with a hefty supporting performance as DA agent Dennis.
Oliver Stone is a seasoned veteran behind the camera. He has never been what some may consider a flashy director by any means. His films have always had a point and shoot quality, which I respect. The only problem is that it focuses all of the attention onto the performances. I can only imagine what this may have been like with better leads.
Savages is a fun little film which reminded me of the action films of the mid 90s, if a tad disposable. This isn’t meant to be a serious look at drugs or the drug culture, in the vein of films like Traffic or Requiem for a Dream. I would put Savages on par with Blow. Not one of Oliver Stone’s best films but worth checking out.