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Savages

By Kathryn Schroeder
Released: July 6, 2012
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Synopsis
Laguna Beach entrepreneurs Ben (Johnson), a peaceful and charitable marijuana producer, and his closest friend Chon (Kitsch), a former Navy SEAL and ex-mercenary, run a lucrative, homegrown industry-raising some of the best weed ever developed. They also share a one-of-a-kind love with the extraordinary beauty Ophelia (Lively). Life is idyllic in their Southern California town...until the Mexican Baja Cartel decides to move in and demands that the trio partners with them.

When the merciless head of the BC, Elena (Hayek), and her brutal enforcer, Lado (Del Toro), underestimate the unbreakable bond among these three friends, Ben and Chon-with the reluctant, slippery assistance of a dirty DEA agent (Travolta)-wage a seemingly unwinnable war against the cartel. And so begins a series of increasingly vicious ploys and maneuvers in a high stakes, savage battle of wills. www.savagesfilm.com
Film Review
Production
Oliver Stone returns to his roots, so to speak, with Savages. Said roots are dealing with illegal drugs, as seen previously in a number of his films where drugs are being used as a plot device or recreational activity of a main character. In Savages Stone tackles the Mexican Drug Cartel and the home-town local growers that have sprouted up all over the country. The rapid boom of local growers is in part thanks to the legalization of marijuana for medicinal uses. Savages has all of the right ideas in place for a great story, things just happen to not be executed properly. The Mexican Drug Cartel, led by Elena Sanchez (Salma Hayek) and her enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro), are in desperate need of a resurgence in their business as Elena is losing power quickly, as well as product. Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) are a couple of guys from Laguna Beach, California who hit the jackpot when Ben's expertise in botany and Chon's military stint in Afghanistan landed them with possibly the best marijuana crop ever engineered. Elena's business is suffering because of Chon and Ben, and she wants in, badly. Chon and Ben are being bullied, and this is one bully that will chop your head off with a chainsaw.

Chon and Ben are millionaires. They own a gorgeous home in Laguna Beach atop a cliff and share it with a beautiful young woman. The keyword here is share, as Ophelia (Blake Lively), aka "O", is in a relationship with both men. Their less-than conventional lifestyle is of no consequence, until the boys decide they do not want to join up with the Cartel, leading Elena to use alternative methods of persuasion. The only thing Ben and Chon care about is O, and Elena kidnaps her as leverage against them. Savages should at this point develop into a fast-paced, intricately developed action thriller pitting two men against the Cartel, as led by a ferocious and deadly leader. It does not. Instead it creeps along with the most obvious twists and story progression; it becomes fun to watch merely to see how generic every plot choice ends up being. Chon and Ben are gregarious, making up one whole of a character that never interests the viewer. O spends the majority of her time in a static daze, held captive and telling the viewer to care. Her torture is cut-short by the script deciding to be lenient, using her as appreciated leverage and not a tool in which to get what it wants through violence. Del Toro's Lado has every bit the cold heart to do torturous things, and this is shown on occasion, but when it comes to the women in Savages everything is luke warm. The strong villain needed in Elena does not exist, and thus the entire Cartel is never felt as a real threat to Ben and Chon. The stakes are not raised, and a thrilling viewing experience never achieved.

Savages is a passable film, neither exciting or altogether excruciating--unless you have seen every other film is draws from script-wise, then it is downright painful. The performances by all involved come across as more soapy, or in the style of a character actor, then strong leading men or women. Benicio Del Toro's enforcer Lado remains the most interesting character up until the end with his maniacal ways, but that does not take much given all the others involved. At 130 minutes you feel every second tick by in Savages, a common occurrence in a film that does not deliver a fresh, engaging, and exciting story with a roller-coaster effect. These are all of the things you want from Savages, and all the things you do not get, making Savages a huge disappointment.
Writing
Adapted from the novel "Savages" by Don Winslow, Oliver Stone's Savages meanders through the story, never reaching higher than a flat expanse of events without a clear theme. The altogether flatness of the story can be considered passable, but the one device employed to tell the story ruins it from the opening scene--the voiceover narration by Lively's O. Screenwriter's Shane Salerno, Don Winslow, and Oliver Stone open the script by having O introduce herself, vaguely, and while having sex with Chon tell us about his character. The use of the word "wargasms" hints at the ridiculousness of the dialogue, and it only gets more obnoxious when she refers to Chon and Ben as the "buddhist and baddest," respectively. Opening with voiceover can assist in setting up a complicated story, in Savages it is incessantly used to introduce characters throughout the film. Because of this the story is never able to organically unfold; as a viewer you are subjected to O's inane dialogue, foreshadowing, and overall worthless anecdote's. The California beach girl drawl, with all of its laid-back, slightly inebriated huskiness intensifies the unpleasantness. The voiceover alone does not make for the poorly laid out and executed script for Savages, there are plenty more gripes at every turn.

Savages creates a topical plotline, with the Mexican Cartel wanting in on the local-boys marijuana business. It resembles the capitalist plight, where large corporations take-over smaller businesses on a local level in order to maintain power in the marketplace. Oliver Stone has always been a director to tackle political and societal issues in his films and the makings were there for Savages. Stone simply seems to have forgotten that story structure and surprises are important to lead the viewer. One cannot keep their interest when nothing happens, and the characters are uninteresting, to say the least. Having everyone lose their innocence, timed perfectly with what sounds like a Hawaiian melody in the score, does not make a character arc. Cheating in order to gain sympathy from the viewer with over-used and dated plot twists, that also try and set-up motivation for a character that never had any to begin with, does not make for a surprising climax. Infusing the story with Shakespearian trifles that procure laughter before empathy is nonsensical. Having a villain who caves under the least amount of pressure is unforgivable, and Savages Elena is that character.

Salma Hayek's Elena needs to be a frightening presence. A woman who runs a Drug Cartel should not have weakness, or show any remorse, doubt, or falter under any circumstance. Elena possesses none of these attributes, and the entire film suffers because of this fact. It is not Hayek's performance that is the problem. When she launches into a rant against Lado she is every bit a force to be reckoned with, and afraid of completely. It is what the script does to her character in the third-act, and the fact that it does not surprise the viewer by going against the standard practice of who should win, and what a woman would do, that makes Savages far less than savage. Elena stands for the Cartel, and in order for the Cartel to be a threat, to stir up fear, and leave the audience afraid for the good guys she must deliver. In Savages all Elena's character does is play into an age-old stereotype that women are weak, easily persuaded and their attention distracted by trivial emotions. The Cartel is not to be feared in Savages, and therefore the entire plot becomes lost.

The screenwriters never create any bite to the story in Savages. They include violence and blood, plus some horrific acts against people but nothing shocking or abhorrent. There is the standard crooked DEA-agent in John Travolta's Dennis, but who cares that has been done to death in movies. The relationship between Chon, Ben, and O is not strong enough to warrant empathy from the viewer when she is kidnapped. Seeing O returned is the last thing anyone desires, as it would make for better viewing if she was tortured and ultimately killed. Savages tries to be a love story wrapped up in an action-thriller; it succeeds at neither. What it is is a regurgitated script from many a film before attempting to look fresh and new with a young cast and topical plotline. Sadly, Oliver Stone has failed to resurrect his career as one of the most button-pushing and controversial director's working in Hollywood with Savages.



Genres
Drama, Thriller, Action
Release Date
July 6, 2012
MPAA Rating
R
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