Savages – Extremely Hostile Takeover

Country: United States
Genre: Action
Director: Oliver Stone
Year: 2012

Rating: ★★½☆☆

WORTH A LOOK

Over the last five years or so, drug violence in Mexico has escalated from horrendous to an all out massacre, with a body count of over 50,000. Surely that deserves a hard-hitting movie. Savages is not that movie.

Director Oliver Stone and novelist Don Winslow have the nerve to be flippant with this incendiary material. How so?

Let’s start with the characters. We’ve got the stable menage a trois of ‘O’ (Blake Lively), Chon (Taylor Kitsch), and Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). A stable menage a trois? That’s mythical, like a unicorn, and has no place in a reality based movie. Mind you, there have been threesomes in the movies before, like in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but there was always conflict. There has to be. That’s just basic psychology. If you must go and make a movie about a stable menage a trois, that’s your movie right there.

Then there’s the drug kingpin, Elena (Salma Hayek). Now, no doubt there have been female drug kingpins in the past, but that’s sufficiently rare and different that you don’t just toss it out there. Again, that deserves it’s own movie.

But the implausibilities don’t stop there. Our heroes (and they’re presented as heroes, not anti-heroes) are drug dealers. Chon is a stone cold killer who has done duty in Iraq, and Ben is a Buddhist botanist trying to create the perfect strain of killer weed. Natch, these two have been best buds since childhood. And our trio is rounded out by ‘O’ a bored little rich girl out to live life to its fullest. Are you ready to barf yet?

It wouldn’t have been so hard to make these folks likeable. Why not make Ben have his epiphany after medical marijuana is legalized in California? If he only supplied clinics, he’d be a lot more sympathetic. Chon could be presented as more damaged, being an Iraq vet. He needs the high to calm his nerves. ‘O’ hooks up with one of the boys, coming from an abusive (not rich) home. If she hooked up with Ben, she craves the abuse of her childhood. If she hooked up with Chon, she sees greater possibilities in Ben. Plenty of conflict and reality there. Now, they’re sympathetic. Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Anyway, drug kingpin Elena wants in on Ben and Chon’s product because it’s so potent, but Ben and Chon prefer to stay independent. Savages present this as an allegory of a behemoth like Walmart taking over an upstart company that’s come up with a better product. Great angle, but the filmmakers don’t work the conceit thoroughly enough to make it pay off in terms of allegory or satire.

To make Ben and Chon give in, Elena has ‘O’ kidnapped. It’s ridiculously easy because ‘O’ decides to go to the mall. Yeah, she’s accompanied by a bodyguard, but come on. We’re talking about the Mexican mob, who have already sent our heroes a video of an enforcer chainsawing a dozen victims. Underestimating the Mexican mob is stupid of our heroes, and it doesn’t make ‘O’ very sympathetic either. Really? One last trip to the mall?

Now, Savages isn’t quite as bad as I’ve made it sound. Some of the plot turns are engaging, purely as architectural suspense, since we don’t give a damn about the protagonists.

Actually, out of all the characters, the only one who was remotely interesting is Lado (Benicio Del Toro), Elena’s enforcer. He emigrated years ago to California to give his family a better life, but he hasn’t been able to adapt to the cultural mores, and is increasingly perturbed that his family has. Interesting. And Benicio Del Toro plays the character as watchful and aware, making him much more compelling than he probably was on the page.

Still, some fun plot turns, decent direction, and a bravura acting turn by Benicio Del Toro does not a good movie make.

Those who appreciated Stone’s last full blown genre movie, U-Turn, will no doubt be disappointed by Savages.

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