Savages delivers a potent storyline
LIVER Stone has never made a movie based on an Elmore Leonard novel – but his new film, Savages, comes close.
This twisty tale of American ingenuity, Mexican drug cartels, corrupt officials, ex-military assassins and a three-way relationship plays like a product of Leonard’s mind, but is actually based on the bestselling novel by Don Winslow, who co-wrote the script with longtime friend and collaborator Shane Salerno (the 2000 Shaft remake, and 2007’s AVPR: Aliens vs Predator – Requiem) and Stone.
Savages is the frenzied story of longtime best friends Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson), who run a successful Southern California operation selling a potent strain of marijuana.
Ben is the brains of the business, a surf-loving hippie who wants to change the world, and spends his money and time doing just that in impoverished countries.
Chon is the muscle, a war veteran who lost his innocence and soul in Iraq and now only wants to protect Ben from outsiders as well as his own naivete.
O, short for Ophelia (Blake Lively), is the beautiful California beach blonde they willingly share.
Life was blissful for the trio until the leader of the ruling Mexican drug cartel, Elena (Salma Hayek), wants to partner with Ben and Chon. They reject her offer and she sends her enforcer, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), to change their minds by kidnapping and threatening to torture and kill O. With the help of a crooked DEA agent (John Travolta), the best friends wage a bloody war against Elena that yields several clever revelations.
Johnson and Kitsch are believable as the yin-yang of O’s life.
In a surprisingly deep role for Lively ( Gossip Girl, The Green Lantern), O’s character pendulum swings between pampered rich girl and cunning survivalist.
Del Toro is mesmerising as the devious cartel hatchet man with a gift for self-survival, while Hayek gives nuance to the attractive and ruthless leader who once upon a time sacrificed her role as a loving mother to replace her murdered husband as head of the cartel and to protect their children from the same fate.
Elena is drawn to O, who reminds her of her own daughter, who despises her for what she has become.
There’s little gratuitous about Savages, as Stone shows considerable restraint in staging the violence and blood and, instead, concentrates on building a film that is less stylish, but better executed and with a more subtle message.
Stripped of the pretense and heavy-handed moralising that dogged W. and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Savages represents a minor comeback for the director, who is in need of reconnecting with audiences and himself as a filmmaker.
Benicio del Toro stars in a return to form for acclaimed director Oliver Stone.