'Savages': Oliver Stone's hazy tale of drugs, thugs, free love
A movie review of "Savages," Oliver Stone's halfhearted suspense piece about a war between a Mexican drug cartel and Southern California pot farmers. It stars Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Savages,' with Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek. Directed by Oliver Stone, from a screenplay by Stone, Shane Salerno and Don Winslow, based on Winslow's novel. 127 minutes. Rated R for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout. Several theaters.
Late in Oliver Stone's grisly, action-suspense movie "Savages," about a war between a Mexican drug cartel and a couple of well-meaning Southern California pot farmers, there's a frantic exchange between John Travolta's crooked federal agent and Benicio Del Toro's brutal enforcer that borders on buddy comedy.
Following the unexpectedly delightful moment, I kept thinking how much more I'd rather see those two fine actors in a good comic farce than sit through the rest of the rudderless, halfhearted "Savages."
A slippery suspense drama that displays, but doesn't sell, its strongest points — symmetrical ironies between heroes and villains; a blurring of moral boundaries; a satirical portrait of alt-family dynamics — "Savages" is never quite one thing or another.
Most curious is the way Stone can't seem to say whatever he's trying to say about the story's most provocative element: an erotic love story involving the sunny but ditsy O (Blake Lively), who lives and sleeps with both the violent Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and sensitive Ben (Aaron Johnson), unlikely best friends and major weed growers.
The trio's close bond and limits are tested when O is kidnapped by the cartel to force Chon and Ben to work for it.
Stone, who once presented a feverish version of 1960s counterculture ("The Doors"), now seems intriguingly skeptical about the cracks in a '60s-like utopian, free-love arrangement between these singular personalities. But he doesn't go far before drifting toward the cartel's own dysfunctional, pseudo-family structure (run by Salma Hayek's iron-fisted matriarch).
Even Stone indirectly acknowledges the film's absence of definable purpose. In a jarring twist, he presents alternative endings: one a romantic if bloody vision of ultimate loyalty, the other a peevishly silly take on how power, reputations and relationships work in the real world. It's a tactic meant to be clever but leaves a bitter taste.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org